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May 17, 2013

Sunset Tarpon Fishing

Pat Ford catches a 200-plus-pound tarpon in the Florida Keys.

[Click through all the images above to see photos of the 200-plus-pound tarpon.]

It’s pretty clear that one of my favorite fishing trips is catching tarpon just before sunset in Key West with my long time friend, Capt. RT Trosset. See the last issue of Salt Water Sportsman for details. On May 10, I brought Dr. Kevin Fox and his wife, Dr. Deborah Longwill (my dermatologist), down to Key West for a day with Capt. RT. The offshore fishing was unusually slow, but our plans included a trip for tarpon during the last two hours of daylight.

We found a channel with an outgoing tide and set up to drift crabs on floats with the current. It wasn’t long before Kevin hooked and landed a tarpon in the 150-pound range (his biggest ever) and then another around 100 pounds. The combo wore him out, so I picked up a rod and flipped out an oversize crab. It only drifted back about 30 yards before I had a strike.  

[The circle hook took hold and the largest tarpon I have ever seen took to the air.] 

Both RT and I went nuts! It took me about 30 minutes to bring her to boatside; there was no doubt it was a monster. I had 6 feet of leader and the fish was at least a foot longer (which put her at 7 feet in length). Her belly was way larger than her head, which had at least 2 feet of "side." That put the girth at more than 48 inches.   

RT has caught seven or eight tarpon over 200 pounds during his 38 years of guiding, and I’ve caught several in the 180 range, and one I thought was 200. RT has measured tarpon that were 228, 215 and 208 using the standard formula, so he’s as good as it gets when it comes to judging the size of a tarpon. He conservatively judged mine to be between 210 and 220 pounds. We thought about taping the length and girth to get an accurate weight, but this fish was so huge that there was no way we were going to be able to tape it without it becoming completely exhausted.

None of us wanted to take any chance of killing this fish. I gladly gave up my bragging rights to watch her swim happily away.

You can’t really get an accurate "size" photo of a tarpon from inside a skiff with a wide angle lens, but Deborah is an excellent photographer and snapped more than enough photos of this magnificent creature to dispel any disbelievers. Now I know how handy it is to have a photographer onboard when you get that fish of a lifetime! I’m never going to get enough evening tarpon trips in Key West, but I doubt I’ll ever see one like this again.