Every year in early June we, along with hundreds of other dedicated anglers, make a pilgramige to the salty shores of Boca Grande, Florida.
We call it Hill Tide; a magical moon phase that changes the oceans tide and flushes millions of crabs into the Boca Grande Pass. The food chain is a beautiful thing, as the tarpon knowingly move in to feed on the crabs. Just as they’ve done for hundreds of years, and possibly thousands, they feed heavily on this natural buffet.
Tarpon are unique because of their “swim bladder”, which is sometimes used for buoyancy or respiratory functions. They “roll” on the surface of the saltwater to gulp air, then they use that air to supplement their energy level. If tarpon are not able to access the surface to get air, they will die. We know that the frequency of their air intake is directly related to the oxygen levels present in the water. Tarpon are the only fully marine species of fish able to breathe air. (myfwc.com)
Along with the tarpon come the sharks, who swim around waiting for one silver fish to break away from the school and show its vulnerability. The humans in the boats are the least of the problems for these fish who are targeted by the huge predators. At least the humans will release the fish after a few quick photos! I have personally witnessed a few shark attacks on tarpon, and even though I realize that it’s a necessary part of natures course, it’s tough to watch.
When we are lucky enough to hook a tarpon we know to hold on tight. They don’t simply fight us from below the surface of the water, they jump straight out of the depths and try to throw the hook by shaking their head furiously. When this happens the angler will lower the rod tip to keep the hook in place. We call the lowering of the rod “bowing to the silver king”. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a proven method for improving the odds.
My largest tarpon weighed 180 lbs. It took me about 35 minutes to finally get her to the boat. She was beautiful, she was exhausted, and we cared for her until she felt well enough to swim away on her own. In addition to photos, we also take DNA samples to send in to biologists to improve the overall health and wellness of the tarpon population.
Just a few days ago I managed to land my second largest – a beautiful female who weighed 150 lbs and was 7 feet long!
This is, by far, my favorite fishing trip every year. I love Boca Grande and the rich history of the little fishing town. I love tarpon and what they represent as a game fish. We fight to protect them and their safety in numbers so that we, and future generations, might always have this fight of a lifetime to look forward to each June.