The tarpon have arrived early this year in the Florida Keys, making those of us who eagerly await their arrival very happy. The fish are swarming in the backcountry of Florida Bay and moving through the bridges to swim along the oceanside flats as well. It's my favorite time of year in the Keys, made more special, I think, because it's temporary — the fish stay only a few months, so you have to take advantage of the situation while you can. They will be gone before you know it.
Fly fishermen are already scoring on the silver kings, both in the backcountry and out front in the ocean, and the live bait action around the bridges has been quite good too, depending on the tides. I fished a small tournament out of the Islamorada Fishing Club weekend before last with SWS contributing photographer Richard Gibson and his son Jake, who caught his second tarpon right off the bat that morning in Indian Key Channel. Jake caught his very first tarpon last year, fishing with his Dad and me at Channel 5.
The fish ate a live pilchard and put on a fantastic leaping display before settling down and dogging us hard, but Jake prevailed and we released the fish after a lengthy fight. It's very cool to see kids get fired up about fishing, and even cooler to see them take pride in letting the fish go. When I was Jake's age (11), most fish were killed and brought to the dock for bragging rights, even game fish like tarpon and bonefish sometimes.
It's good to see that things have changed, while they also stay the same. The tarpon still show up in Keys waters each spring as they undoubtedly have for thousands of years. I caught my first tarpon 45 years ago, right here in Islamorada, and after all these years I still look forward to seeing them again, but now, we're a lot smarter about taking care of this very special and unique fishery. Hopefully, fishermen 1,000 years from now will feel the same way, and the fish will still be here for them.