Friday, May 31, 2013

Pledging Fealty to the Silver King

Longtime blog readers (i.e., Suburban Bushwacker and my mom) may recall that back in 2009 I took a trip to New Jersey in hopes of realizing my lifelong dream of catching a bluefin tuna, only to strike out on tuna while accidentally bumbling my way into realizing another lifelong dream of catching a blue marlin.

It was a fantastic, once-in-a lifetime experience, and I'm glad I finally got a taste of true big-game fishing. Having said that, I doubt I'll ever do it again. Not that I don't want to, but the fact is, offshore big-game fishing is way, way beyond my means, and likely always will be. I lucked into the one trip. I won't be lucking into another. For the same dismal financial reasons, my prospects of catching a bluefin before that magnificent species disappears are also fading quickly into shouldacouldawoulda territory.

But the last two points of my saltwater Holy Trinity+1 are inshore species, within reach (just, both physically and financially) for those of us with big dreams and small budgets. They're both still beyond my means, but unlike marlin and tuna, I can at least imagine the possibility of someday being able to catch a big New York/Jersey coast striper or a Florida Keys tarpon.

Especially the tarpon. Probably no other fish (including marlin and tuna) haunts my imagination like the tarpon. Maybe it's the fact that unlike offshore fishing, the process itself of fishing for tarpon seems somewhat familiar to me. Or if not familiar, at least not something utterly alien, like being strapped into a fighting chair on a sixty-foot yacht ninety miles out in the open Atlantic, cranking on a huge Penn International 80 with a pit crew of deckhands all around me.

But tarpon? The tackle, the tactics, the boats, the setting, they're not entirely unlike what I'm used to. It's a true big-game fish species, but one you can reasonably expect to catch on relatively normal-sized tackle, in relatively normal-sized boats, in relatively normal-sized waters.

And the fish itself. Wow, what a fish. When my wife and I visited the Florida Keys a few years ago (one of those ramen noodle shoestring budget vacations that didn't allow for us to go out on a real fishing trip) I remember looking over the edge of a dock on Islamorada, just watching and dreaming as those impossibly large, half-tame tarpon cruised around the pilings like rippling, muscled quicksilver. Norman Maclean may have been haunted by waters, but I am haunted by the memory of a monstrous tarpon with its head hovering in the gin-clear water a foot or so below mine, which was hanging over the edge of the dock. Eyeball to ping-pong ball-sized eyeball we were, until I, producing no tidbit, was summarily dismissed with a flick of a tail that boiled the water's surface like an outboard.

And that's as close as I've ever come to a tarpon. These days, hoping to avoid stoking currently irrational and impossible dreams, I try to stay away from tarpon-related stories. Best not to think about it until I can think about affording it, right? But last night on my local PBS station, I got hooked by this excellent hour-long documentary on tarpon and the birth of modern big-game fishing.

It's called "Silver King: The Birth of Big-Game Fishing" and it's pretty damn cool. If you're at all interested in fishing history, it's a must-see (there's a streaming video link, I believe). Lots of awesome vintage tarpon-fishing footage. I haven't yet seen the "Tarpon" DVD,  that ode to Seventies-era Key West weirdness, mainly because it's a bit pricey. But now I'm afraid I must order it, because that damn "Silver King" show  has gotten me all worked up and dreaming.

Right now, raiding the kids' meager college fund, throwing the kayak and a tent in the back of the pickup and heading for Florida sounds like a perfectly rational thing to do for a 42-year-old looking for a midlife crisis that doesn't involve Vegas, Corvettes and/or fake tits.


  1. It's a trip you wouldn't regret. I might limit the kayak expeditions to bonefish and snook, however. A decent sized tarpon could pull you halfway to the Yucatan before you knew what happened.

    Good thing for you is that there are enough stranger than fiction characters in they Keys, and each has an equally strange story, to write 15 or 20 pieces from each day's encounters. And just a heads up, there's no shortage of fake tits in south Florida.

  2. I hear the Yucatan is nice this time of year. Keep your head up, life tend to turn and not always to our misfortune.

  3. Quite a few tarpon hang around the beachfront and jetties at South Padre and the Port Mansfield cut in the early fall. Closer than Florida, if a bit of a longer shot at getting a silver king. I've been lucky enough to throw to a few in Belize on a day they weren't biting and search for them a couple of days they weren't there.