Eddie Bauer fishing guide and Deneki founder Andrew Bennett is lucky enough to spend a lot of time fishing in glorious locations from Alaska and BC to the Bahamas—for his day job. But when he decides where to spend his time off, one of the vacation destinations he often lands on is the Florida Keys. And the reason he picks that location is to stalk migratory tarpon that grow to more than 200 pounds. He’s booked his ticket again for June, but before he packed, he sent us a breakdown on the reason why. -LYA Editor
Words and Fish Pics by Andrew Bennett, Big Images by Louis Cahill
Over the last 10 years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to spend a lot of quality time at the three remote fishing lodges run by Deneki Outdoors, the company I started. The Kanektok River in western Alaska, the Dean River in British Columbia, and South Andros Island in the Bahamas are all amazing fisheries, and I cherish the time I have to spend “getting to know my product!”
But there are a couple of fishing trips that I love to take every year that have nothing to do with the business. In the late spring or early summer, I head to the Florida Keys to fly-fish for tarpon. I call it the “big game” of fly-fishing.
What Are Tarpon?
Tarpon are large saltwater fish that live in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and off the southern half of the East Coast (in addition to some more exotic places, like Senegal). In some areas, “baby tarpon” from 10 to 30 pounds live in big numbers, and they’re a lot of fun on a fly rod. When I head to the Florida Keys, though, we’re fishing for large migratory tarpon that weigh from 60 to well over 200 pounds.
Fly-Fishing for Tarpon
Almost all fly-fishing for tarpon in the Keys is done from a small flats boat. The angler stands on the bow of the boat, looking for fish as they swim, slowly, in groups parallel to the shoreline. Seeing the fish is usually not a problem–a 100-pound tarpon is about 5 feet long. When a fish gets within casting range, the angler “takes a shot” and tries to land the fly just in front of the fish’s mouth, and then move the fly so it stays right in front of the fish, giving it plenty of time to “eat.”
And when a giant tarpon does eat, buckle up! They jump explosively. They rattle their gill plates. They take long, screaming runs that give you no choice but to just hang on. They’re strong and heavy, and fighting a giant tarpon is a physical battle. Earlier in my tarpon fishing career I was told “if you’re not pulling as hard as you can, that fish is resting.” Fifteen to 45 minutes into a hard fight with a 10- to 12-weight fly rod, you may be lucky enough to have a giant tarpon next to the boat.
What’s the Draw?
I think I love tarpon fishing so much because of the incredible contrasts involved. One moment you’re standing on the deck of a boat on a beautiful, warm, humid day. The next moment your heart is in your throat as you take a shot at a giant fish that’s swimming straight at you. The instant a tarpon eats your fly, all that beauty and tension flips to the complete mayhem of the fight. It’s really challenging fishing–any day you land a tarpon is a good day–but it’s incredibly rewarding as well.
After years of fishing for giant tarpon in the Keys, my heart still beats faster just thinking about them, which is why I’ve already booked my ticket for another trip this June.
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