Fish story by fishing guide Capt. Mark Bennett
On a warm day near
Boca Grande in December...
was early December, it had been in the low to mid
80's and not a breath of wind for over a week. The
day before I had a fly fisherman on tailing reds all
morning. We had quarter moon tides and there were a
lot of fish with their tails in the air the entire
outgoing that lasted till almost noon. As many tails
as I have ever seen in one day. There were several
times we couldn't decide which one to cast to. I
would say 2 o'clock. My angler would cast to a fish
that was a different one than I was looking at. For
redfish on fly...it was as good as it gets.
So the next day I
thought, "What's a fisherman to do with a mid-week
course, Jenni and I decided to go out and try to
provoke a few reds with some feathers and fur. Armed
with just my 7 weight rod and Jenni her Nikon we
searched the flats all morning. The fish that were
everywhere you looked the day before today were
There was zero wind,
not a boat in sight. Just absolute perfect
conditions and not a fish for miles. We were taking
our time easing off the flat. Just relaxing, running
the trolling motor and eating a sandwich, when
suddenly Jenni spots a tarpon. I really thought she
was seeing things. Then she saw another. My
attention was immediately drawn away from the peanut
butter for a moment. Jenni might have been mistaken
the first time, but her eyes will not get fooled
twice. The girl knows her tarpon.
Right then, I saw
we eased across the 3 to 4' flat I was amazed. There
were 20 to 30 tarpon laid up finning all over this
flat. These weren't little tarpon one often
associates with winter. These fish were full size,
100+ pounds. I frantically dove into my storage
hatch on my Silver King hoping to find some tarpon
gear that I was too lazy to remove at the end of the
Ok, I had my fly stretcher with a dozen tarpon flies
or so, leaders, good...
It hit me...the real problem arose, the only rod in
the boat was a 7 weight fly rod.
I remember thinking,
"How am I going to get a 5/0 hook to penetrate a
tarpon's rock hard jaw with a 7 weight?" I decided
to use a favorite snook fly with a 1/0 hook. I
figured I would have a much better chance getting
the small hook to stick. I just wasn't sure that
they would bite it. I rigged a short piece of 40#
for a bite tippet to a regular 10# tapered leader.
I was approaching the first one, I looked at my
"tarpon rig" that I put together and laughed.
Thinking...if one does bite this I will definitely
have my hands full. The first three fish I cast to
never even flinched. I threw the little fly closer
with each cast. Not even a looker. They seemed
totally uninterested with my humble offering. They
were here to rest, not feed... I relaxed and
continued to cast. I figured if they weren't going
to eat I was still going to have some fun trying. I
approached the fourth fish and made a cast. It was
just past him and would come across the strike zone
right in front of his nose.
one reacted immediately. Made one kick of his tail
and tracked my fly right to the boat. He ate it just
as my leader reached the tip of my rod. I came tight
on the line and he cleared the water 10 feet from
the boat and threw my little 1/0 fly. I remember my
hands were shaking like a crack head at a 12 step
meeting while I was trying to file a point back on
the tiny 1/0 hook.
Now I thought...they will hit my little fly now
what? The very next one I threw at kicked off and
engulfed the fly. I hooked up again. After the third
jump I knew I had him stuck.
Herein lies the second problem...this reel only has
125 yards of backing!
battle was on. This fish was wild, after a few more
jumps and lots of frantic winding he was close to
the boat. I thought...I really might land this fish.
The tippet was holding, the hook was firmly locked
in his top jaw. The rod was limited out. Pulling
back (bending the rod) did nothing. The fish would
not budge. I had to straight pull (point the rod at
the fish) just to move him closer. The fish and I
went round and round the boat.
He came around the side and seemed ready to land. I
needed to time it perfect. I had to get the fish on
his side grab hold of the 12" leader and set my rod
down to grab him by his jaw. In a last ditch effort
the fish lunged under the boat. I pulled back and
out. The fish came out backwards. Just when I
thought I had the upper hand, it happened. The rod
snapped right above the cork handle. It sounded like
rod I have fished with since I was 14 years old
finally met it's match.
I was determined to catch this fish no matter what.
So I grabbed the broken piece and held it to the
cork. I was still in this game. I brought the fish
alongside grabbed the leader and released my fish.
It was about 100 pounds. Not my largest I have ever
caught, but definitely one of my favorites. Looking
at the broken rod and twisted reel on the deck all
we could do is watch these fish until sunset. Right
as the sun started to set they their activity became
more aggressive. Rolling and splashing as they
floated toward the deeper water of the harbor.
Needless to say, the next day I was back with a
12 weight in hand, but the fish were gone...
For Information and reservations:
Capt. Mark Bennett
Tarpon, Snook and
Redfish - light tackle and fly fishing charters with fishing guide Capt. Mark Bennett
Boca Grande - Charlotte Harbor - Englewood - Port Charlotte
- Venice - Sarasota