Tarpon tug-of-war: My first fight with the feisty silver king

June 19, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY OLIVIA CAMERON- Reeling in a tarpon is a rite of passage in the town of Boca Grande. As a Florida native, I spent most of my time soaking up the sun and getting saltwater in my eyes. However, I was always lousy at fishing. Even a minnow wouldn’t touch my hook with a ten-foot pole. I thought I’d reached the point of no return. Instead, I was the girl who’d go out with the boys to fish and end up naming the shrimp. When it was time to skewer them for bait, I winced. My will to fish sank with the shrimp.
Tarpon season had always been strongly awaited by the locals. I’d imagined record-sized sea creatures thrashing just above the water, but I’d never endured the fight until now. A few Boca Beacon colleagues, another local and I set sail with Dave Hayden and his son, David. We reached the south tip beyond the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse just in time for the sunset. The Gulf was laden with tarpon. Nearby boaters began to cast their lines. 
Our bunch was given the rundown, and it was time to take our positions at the stern. My memory was fuzzy with worry, knowing I’d never remember all of the steps. A coworker and I had just set our bait again, hers with a squirrelfish and mine with a crab. Directions were given to set “green on tip,” meaning we would let the line out until the green string met the end of the pole. With assistance, my green and red strings would be positioned a few times before it all hit me. Once the sun had set, the ocean was as dark as tar. The colored strings grew hard to distinguish after each dip in the water. 
 Only a minute in, my line was yanked to the rim of the boat, and I heard “fish on” come from someone else’s mouth. You’re told to say “fish on” rather than muttering a bunch of meaningless words, but my muttering was instinctive.
The tarpon’s tug of war was an even call, considering we both weighed the same. However, each time I barely cranked the reel, he would set himself out another few feet. The choppy waves threw us for a loop. I accepted the fate of the pole snapping.
 But it didn’t. With the motivation and guidance of the ladies, I followed the motions. Pulling up and reeling down lasted a lifetime. I luckily had a considerable amount of help holding the rod steady and following the direction of the tarpon. I finally tugged the fish to the top, and the boat light reflected across its silver scales. A large tarpon was popping out of the water right before our eyes. 
This could be the first of many tarpon! A special thank you to Dave and his son for letting us climb aboard. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the Beacon ladies, either. Happy fishing!

Photos by Caroline