Throughout my adult life, those who know me will tell you that if I want something, I’m always 100% focused on getting it. My drive and passion won’t allow me to quit until I achieve whatever I’m focused on getting done. They will also tell you that when it came to fishing, my biggest obsession, from the time of my youth, was chasing my personal best catch. Once I relocated to Florida, that target was an elusive fish, one cloaked in silver, a perfectly engineered fighting machine with the optimal combination of elegance, grace, power, and strength. I’m talking about the Silver King Tarpon.
This obsession was finally realized when I made the catch of catches, and it didn’t disappoint. The thing about the tarpon is that it is hard to hook and harder to keep hooked. They fight hard, perform crazy acrobatics, they have a hard bony mouth, and
paper thin lips. More often than not you don’t land this fish, even after you hook it and even when you take the age old advice of bowing to the master. Statistically, old salt guides will tell you that you only have a 37% chance of actually landing the fish you hook. This is why it’s considered a prize catch.
Tarpon typically grow from 4-8 ft. and weigh up to 280 lbs.- another reason they are hard to catch. Putting that in perspective, the average human adult male weighs 195 lbs. When you hook this fish, you’ll often lose him in the first 2-10 seconds. If your tug of war makes it past the first 10 seconds, your landing chances improve but you are in for the fight of your life. One hour? Two hours? Yes, certainly can be. The question often boils down to who will quit first, you or the fish. Your arms get more tired with every turn of the reel and every pump of the rod, but the Tarpon rises to the surface, breathes a gulp of air, and often gains strength. Oh, yes, you read that right, the tarpon breathes air.
They are obligate air breathers, which is why you sometimes see them rolling on the surface of the water. If they don’t occasionally surface for a gulp, they will die. Unfortunately for the tiring angler, that breath of air gives the Tarpon a quick burst of energy to continue the fight.
Fossils reveal that tarpon have been swimming in our oceans since prehistoric times. Adding to the perspective, you can consider that you’re actually fishing for a dinosaur. If you ever have had the opportunity of hooking and landing one, appreciate it. Soak in the moment, take hundreds of photos, and let your senses appreciate the beauty of this fish- it may only happen once in your lifetime. For me, catching this monster, this dinosaur fish, was heart stopping. When I saw that silver tip break the surface, my brain froze and I just gazed in awe. I think I was more “hooked” than the fish – I was addicted.
My obsession has not only been about me catching a tarpon. I have had the good fortune to put others on this fish and get them hooked. Here in the Destin areas, the season is mid-May to early August. That’s when schools fish can be found migrating south through the Gulf of Mexico to spawn. All you need is a fellow angler with Tarpon experience to have your best chance to hook up. The cost of a tarpon trip will vary, so inquire for details.
Lionel James is a Destin, FL Ambassador born in far away Anchorage, Alaska and educated at the University of Minnesota Crookston and Columbia Southern University. Lionel has successfully established two businesses, Lions Tale Adventures- Destin Fishing Charters and My Town 2 Go Emerald Coast. These have led to opportunities to represent Minn Kota and Simms Fishing. Lionel specializes in family friendly fishing trips, trips for experienced anglers including fly fishermen, and even books sunset dolphin tours!