Fishing for Tarpon in the Keys with Captain Brian

Tarpon Fishing in Ramrod Key, Florida
Tarpon Fishing in Ramrod Key, Florida – © Captain Brian Epstein

The majestic tarpon. What an absolutely incredible gamefish. The power that these fish possess can only be understood if you have been attached to one. Upon hooking one they almost immediately launch themselves into the air. Oftentimes multiple leaps follow the initial jump.

One fish that I caught this week that was well over 150 lbs. jumped 10′ into the air and did a barrel roll in midair all the while looking directly at me with its huge eye. If its aerial antics fail to throw the hook, then the fish oftentimes will take off on a searing run. At this point, it is often necessary to chase the fish in order to regain line so as not to have all your line taken off your reel.

These fish are capable of peeling 150 yards of line off your spool in under 10 seconds. If this fails to throw the hook, the fish may take to the air again. After that, another run or two may be the fish’s next move. If you’re still attached after all of the initial mayhem, the fish generally will settle into a dogged fight where it dives deep and just uses its weight and power to prevent you from budging it. The fish will just pump its tail and tow the boat around.

One tarpon that I caught, which we guesstimated to be in the 175-180 lb. class, towed the boat for more than three miles! After fighting any fish for a while, lactic acid builds up in their muscle tissue, and the fish becomes fatigued (just as we do when exerting ourselves for any extended period of time).

Once enough lactic acid builds up in the muscles of a hooked fish, the fight winds down, and the angler is able to lead the fish to bostside/shore. The same thing happens with tarpon EXCEPT this particular fish has a unique trait that is found in only a few fishes. They have the ability to breathe air!

As the hooked tarpon begins to tire, it comes to the surface (oftentimes while looking directly at you) and gulps air. It seems as if it takes 15 to 20 seconds for the fish’s air bladder to remove the oxygen found in the air and transfer it into the bloodstream which then infuses the the fresh oxygen into the muscle tissue. This has the effect of rejuvenating the fish which then often takes off on another sizzling run.

Thus, the fight goes on and on and on with the fish seemingly never tiring. One fish that I fought for over an hour gulped air at least 20 times. It seemed that I’d never be able to bring that fish to boat side. The tarpon is one of the greatest gamefish that I’ve ever had the privilege to lock horns with, and if you have any interest in sport fishing, you owe it to yourself to wrestle one of these beasts. They truly have earned their nickname, the Silver King.

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