I had been on the end of the jetty since before sunrise, but I still felt like I was late to the party.
When Jeremy (who blogs at Casting Tales) joined me, he found me sitting glumly on my fly box, staring out over the water, waiting for a sign. I had seen one ‘maybe’ tarpon roll, just a flash of movement that could have been a turtle grabbing a breath.
Now it was starting to get hot, and the sun was well up. We traded small talk, facing opposite directions to keep as much water under supervision as possible. The wind was picking up, pushing into the twenties, and the water resembled chocolate milk with ragged patches of green water mixed in at random. The real issue was the swell – 2-3 footers rolling in at staggered intervals, with sometimes several seconds of calm in between… and then random rogue waves in the 4 foot category. This kind of setup makes it very difficult to maintain contact with your fly, not to mention complicating the task of keeping your line out of the rocks to a near-impossibility. So when Jeremy saw the first fish roll out in the wash, I didn’t even pick up my rod. In fact, the only thing I picked up was a certain finger in the fish’s general direction. But then another fish rolled there, and another.
I couldn’t take it. I had to try. Chances of failure were much higher than success… but that’s jetty fishing.
I had bought new intermediate line for the trip (to replace one the jetty had eaten the week before), and it felt slick and fresh between my fingers as I stood on a flat rock just above the crashing waves. Slick and fresh, I thought, right up until this bad idea. Oh well. Rocks gotta eat too.
While I stripped line out, the fish showed itself again, rolling quickly this time; a brush of silver flank and black forked tail against the drab, sandy brown waves.
Alright fish. Here goes nothing.
Accelerating line speed, watching the swell pattern, watching for fish, gripping the line with my left hand, hauling hard, aim between the rocks in front of me that guard the way out to the fish…
“How are you going to land it?”, Jeremy queried.
I said something about crossing that bridge when we got there. First, hook the fish. Figure the rest later.
The line sails out ahead of me, puffing and straining against the wind, towing a fuzzy tarpon gift into position to be accepted. Almost made it. I made a face of slight frustration – can’t catch the fish if the fly isn’t where he can see it. Strip in, just in case. Hurry the pickup to avoid the rocks I had cast between. Watch the wave wash. Cast again, and again. Just short of where Jeremy had first spotted the roller. Next cast, I really punch the forward haul, and am blessed with a slight wind lull. Full line extension of what I had stripped out, maybe 65 feet. Strip, strip, strip – suddenly, unexpectedly, there is a soft thump and the line goes tight! Before I can holler at Jeremy, the tarpon clears the surface, completing a full 360 degree rotation before crashing back into the water, immediately exploding upward again.
I feverishly attempt to keep a tight line on the fish and try to avoid slipping on the rocks as I move into a better position. Jeremy is whooping as the 40 pound tarpon leaps again, and I bow to the fish as it crashes back into the water. My new fly line is scraping across rocks and I scuttle quickly up to a higher spot, trying to gain a better angle. I can’t believe the fish is still on, and have time to tell Jeremy so before there is a ‘ping!’ telegraphed down the line, and it goes slack.
Suddenly, it’s quiet again. I hadn't even realized it had been 'loud', til then. Heart pounding, I shake my head slowly, grinning. Turning back to Jeremy, I punch the sky with an elated fist. After a high five, we laughed about the fact that not a picture had been taken. Neither of us had expected me to hook the fish. We weren’t actually ready for it to happen, but it had, and we had seen it. I had hooked an impossible fish, and he had witnessed it. Sharing the experience of an epic win made it all the more sweet. The only thing left to indicate it had happened at all was the tore up, abraded piece of 50 pound bite tippet attached to my fly, and memories that will never die.
That’s what it’s all about ladies and gentlemen, that’s what it’s all about.