A Sickness for Silver

Looking back at the planning of the 2012 editorial calendar, I remember being nervous about the marquee feature for the May/June issue. I knew I wanted the cover story to be about tarpon — but this year, I wanted something different, something special.

I was at a loss when, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from Michael Larkin, stating that he’d like to write a feature about tarpon based on what has been discovered in recent years through scientific research. Out of fear of the piece sounding too much like a textbook, I almost let it go. But then I was taken back to when I first met the young scientist in 2005. I was chasing tarpon in Chaguaramas, Trinidad, and was joined by a team of scientists who would be tagging fish, collecting samples and gathering data. Among them was Larkin, who earned his Ph.D. in marine biology and fisheries from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. His passion for tarpon and his work were undeniable. While all of us had rods in our hands, there Larkin stood with a clipboard. One instance that stands out occurred while a fish was being revived during an evening session. As the scientists scrambled around getting the data they needed, the fish kicked out of the captain’s hands. Larkin ran to the back of the boat, but the fish was lazily drifting just out of reach. With his stomach balanced on the transom and his upper torso teetering toward the water, Larkin frantically yelled, “Grab my ankles — I can get him!” So I did. He went halfway in the water but managed to grab the fish’s tail and bring it back to the boat so the research team could continue their study.

Just like Larkin, fly-anglers will do just about anything to get a closer look at this great fish. In fact, I can remember walking along a dock after dark (and a few cocktails) when I noticed some baby tarpon casually swirling around a dock light. These fish couldn’t have been more than 15 pounds, but even still, I just had to get one to eat a fly. I ran back to my room, grabbed an 8-weight and tied on a small white Deceiver. Because of where the tarpon were swimming and the position of the docked boats, I couldn’t make an appropriate cast. The only way for me to get the fly where it needed to be was to climb on top of one of the pilings. From there, the view was beautiful. I had all the backcast room I needed. My first attempt landed just outside of the light. I let the pattern sink, and sure enough, one of the fish ate. Far from sure-footed, I excitedly gave an extra-hard strip strike, but when I did, I lost my balance and fell on the dock. Initially, I thought I’d broken my hip. Luckily, my hip was still intact; unfortunately, my rod was not. But the fish was on! As best I could, I fought the small fish, but after a few seconds, it leaped out of the water and threw the hook. Broken rod, sore hip and all — was it worth it? Absolutely.

Plain and simple, tarpon make their followers do crazy things, things that most non-anglers would never understand. However, I’d be willing to bet if these non-anglers were to ever physically witness a tarpon track and eat a fly, the majority would get our sickness.

Because we at Fly Fishing in Salt Waters just can't get enough of the silver king, we decided to provide a behind-the-scenes look at what makes a tarpon tick in Larkin's feature . After putting this issue together, we know we made the right call, and we're sure you will feel the same.