the winter has been unseasonably mild and dry. These conditions are
typical of a moderate La Nina just as we had in the winter of 2005-2006.
Occasional cool snaps are normal in this weather pattern. The
combination of the two opposing forces keeps fishes and anglers moving
as the fish are often spread throughout their annual range.
We are now just a couple of weeks away from
the vernal equinox and the start of higher daytime tides.
Inshore gamefish nestled deep in the
backcountry will be returning to the flats with consistency and
out of necessity. In addition to fishes needing to replenish body
fats lost during the winter to become wholesome, some of the
species, also need the protein and oils to prepare for the
rigorous activity of their upcoming spawning that begins in spring
and early summer. For
our area, these vital sources of sustenance are scaled sardines.
John Burns of Ottawa Canada accomplished in
just a couple hours what many have tried for their entire lives, a
45 by 75 fork (80 overall) 200lb giant tarpon in 2007.
Suncoast livebait experts have been catching the sardines
virtually all winter. When the baits first migrate into the area,
they are most commonly found adjacent to deep-water structures,
river and canal mouths, and along the beaches.
During the warming
trends, the trout bite has been red hot. In the deeper grass flats
adjacent to the ICW, school-sized trout are cumulus. Underneath
the flocks of birds in the same areas, bluefish and ladyfish are
wreaking havoc on the baits. "Gator" trout are consistent
on the shallow flats around oyster bars, creek mouths, bends and
For the past year,
the North Suncoast has experienced one of the best redfish cycles
in recent memory. Parallel to last winter, we have had several
recent trips in which we easily achieved double digit catches on a
single drop of the anchor. Late winter reds are notorious for
hanging around riprap, oyster bars, and rock piles catching some
rays at the top of the flood tide. At low tide, I have been
finding a few "tailing" reds on the grass flats adjacent to
Soft plastic jerk worms or eels are producing both
trout and redfish for artificial enthusiasts. Savvy livebait
anglers will overload their livewells with scaled sardines and
live chum the baits into the fish they have recently patterned.
While these baits are staple to a pro's remarkable success, the
logic of targeting fishes that are just exiting the backcountry
and moving onto the open flats gives the pro their edge. Traveling
great distances to acquire both livebait and fish are everyday
norms to these aficionados.
"I find a peerless nexus with those
with which I share and provide this opportunity and experience. It
is the tarpon that is the catalyst that creates perpetual bonds
and timeless memories with those I cross paths with in
Nikki Alfano gets a helping hand from CEO
deckhand Brian in documenting her first tarpon catch.
Finally comes what we all been waiting for. Giant
tarpon will be the quest of those who hail from all parts of the
world wishing to test their mettle against the greatest big game
fish on earth. Each year tens of thousands of tarpon congregate
along our coast in numbers second to none in the world.
beauty of this fascinating species is its character traits of
purity and non-discrimination. Unlike other big game fish, tarpon
inhabit areas close to land that are accessible by million dollar
yachts, wooden row boats, or from someone standing on a fishing
pier. They care not of what class society you come from. They are
not reserved for a social drift during martini hour, Grey Poupon
and fine Cuban cigars. They like you just the same if you drink
Busch beer, enjoy Vienna hot dogs and chew Copenhagen. They could
care less if you offer them live, dead, or artificial bait. They
will burn the gears of a Penn International reel just as they will
a Zebco Rhino. Tarpon are American-built.
When I reflect back over my life, few memories stand as
vivid as the fury of a giant tarpon dancing off the bow of my
boat. Morning has broken as the sight of a ballistic surface to
air missile launches. The vibrations of beating hearts travel
through the deck at mach speed and radiate up through my feet.
Thunder fills my vitality with complete satisfaction. No matter if
its under the cover of darkness, lost in time on a calm and gin
clear flat, or off a busy highway with the roar of morning rush
hour traffic as the backdrop, it is only silence that I hear while
I serve eyewitness to the mystique of stalking this ancient
I find a peerless nexus with those with which I share and
provide this opportunity and experience. It is the tarpon that is
the catalyst that creates perpetual bonds and timeless memories
with those I cross paths with in life. It is these small snapshots
in time that make the tarpon immortal, not the animalís
incredible 125 million years of being. We are fortunate not to
catch them, but that they catch us and create treasured
experiences that can never be taken away or replaced.
|From the outside, the obvious
attraction may seem superficial of small fortunes of fame
and personal gain for a tarpon guide. However, the truth is,
there is actually little of that in this. We do it for the
love, the passion and for the freedom that we can. And we
will. The cost of freedom has never been easy in the shadows
of the principals of our founding forefathers. That is the
American tradition of the utmost consequence often missing
in the bottom line of the fine print of hidden agendas.
While politics and special interest may find their way into
our fisheries despite the will of the people, I remain vigil
and will not back down for what I believe is equally fair in
man's meddling of tarpon.
For me, the intrigue of tarpon is found within the
theater of serenity, euphoric desertion and sovereignty that
I can share with many who have the same common ambitions as
myself. The ferocious rattle of the gill rakers, the
majestic tail walk dance of the silver king, and the stamina
of the wild beast against man are all just bonuses. We
merely play our role as pawns in a game held in the king's
court. A challenge we refer to as our annual calling. Many
of you have become like family to me over the years. These
experiences we share will never be taken away and I am
looking forward to "catching up" with you real soon.
For our first time guests to the big dance, hit the gym
and stock up on the Ben Gay!
and Tired Arms!
L to R: PTTS host Joe
Mercurio, Robert McCue, Brian Timmons and Chuck Jenks
embrace the coveted Jim Beam Tarpon Cup.
And then there were three. Long time
friend and teammate Willie Longnecker has decided to leave
the team and pursue the coveted Jim Beam Tarpon Cup with his
son in 2008. We understand and respect your decision Willie.
Your presence will be missed. Best of luck!
*My most recent
reports published in The St. Petersburg Times can be found here.