Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 28 May 2019
I think the ironic saying originated in an old US spy comedy show on TV in the 60s?
“Missed it by that much!”… at which point the person making the assertion holds up their hand with fingers separated by mere millimeters.
That saying pretty much sums up my recent tarpon fishing excursion down in the Florida Keys.
We had decent weather conditions, a comfortable abode, an excellent craft to fish from, and dedication, but we could find no tarpon. And when I say no, I mean none, as in not one! We made a few passes by the bridges to insure they were actually around, and there we did see them, but on the flats we drew an absolute blank. We tried ocean side, where my fishing partner has experience, and we tried around the backcountry islands, where I have fished in the past. Except for a few small resident fish, we found only vacant open water.
The local guides were stingily guarding their favorite points and intercepts, but we never saw one jump a fish, or even cast. At some of the better ocean spots, the guides appeared to hoard the location, not leaving until they are replaced by a companion guide, who would then station the second boat there, apparently for the duration of their trip. Such is tarpon fishing in the Keys now, I guess.
After a three-day stay we put the boat on the trailer early and headed home.
I am familiar with fish-less tarpon trips, but it has always been because I could not get them to eat. Usually, the frustration was that there were thousands of fish that simply would not play. This was the first time I never cast a fly to a sighted fish.
Have all the tarpon died? No, we just blew it. Due to difficult schedules and a lack of vacancies, we were unable to reserve a place to stay in the area of the Keys we like. Instead, we fished what is sometimes referred to as the lower Keys. But there is more to this story than fishing less familiar water.
There is a curious thing that happens in the Keys in early summer. There is a “hatch” of a strange coral reef critter that has a weird sex life. As I understand it, in sync thousand of them will emerge from the reef and spawn. They do this by actually splitting in half. Their rear ends wriggle free and explode somehow, releasing their eggs and sperm to mingle in the tide. That is the story I have read, but I have seen the little critters myself on a few occasions that they look like whole worms, or maybe tiny eels to me. And they are darn quick, but wriggle is what the books says. What do I know?
Anyway, tarpon seem to favor these little things. In fact, tarpon appear to travel for miles, like hundreds of miles, just to be there when the worms come out to party. Somehow, the worms pretty much all know when the festivities will begin, and the tarpon apparently do too. The tarpon gather in large numbers in the nearby deeper channels, and there they wait. When the party starts, the worms emerge and run around, and the tarpon go nuts.
From a tarpon angler’s point of view it used to be kind of a secret, and before that a lucky guess, as to when this was all going to happen, Now with scientific investigation and the internet, it is not so much a secret. Not being one who likes to fish in crowds, I don’t really have any desire to fish the hatch anymore, but I do like how hard the well-conditioned migratory tarpon pull.
I am proud to admit that neither my partner nor I succumbed to fishing around the bridges at night. We have our dignity, or maybe we are just getting too old? But I will admit that I walked out a bridge during the day with a spinning rod, but that was more of a nostalgia thing. I spent years doing that when I was a youngster.
Over the years, it has been pretty common for the big tarpon to disappear from the Everglades rivers prior to the worm hatch. This last trip seems to indicate that the Keys shallows get vacuumed prior to the hatch too. I simply find that amazing.
A young guide came into the shop last week and told me the hatch went off the day after we left.