Fishipedia Report: Tarpon overload in Tortuguero

June 27th, 2011| No Comments

Happiness is catching your first tarpon before breakfast – bending over the side of the boat, seeing those huge scales flicker in the sun’s first light before a final push sends her serenely back beneath a glassy sea. It doesn’t get much better…

Tarpon overload in TortugueroTarpon fishing rarely affords you that luxury, so when it does, you savour it. In general, while pursuing the silver kings, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. But as I released that 60lb leviathan at 6.30m on May 26 2007, I just knew it wasn’t going to be the last.

Like many of you, I suspect, my time spent daydreaming about fishing far outstrips the time spent with an actual rod in hand. So getting it right when the opportunity finally arrives is so important. If you’re trying to sandwich a fishing day into the middle of a family holiday, the pressure to succeed is more or less doubled.

You buy tackle, you tie flies, you research locations, you refine tactics, you tie more flies, you scour YouTube for relevant videos. The days and weeks crawl by, and all the while you check and re-check the weather, looking for long-term forecasts even though you know in your heart of hearts they can’t be relied on.

Tarpon overload in TortugueroThen finally, one morning, you find yourself sitting on the dock, about to find out whether life will be breathed into those fantasies. If you find yourself where I did that morning, in Tortuguero, you tend to think anything might be possible. A tiny village, nestled on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Tortuguero is accessible only by a short flight or more normally, a three-hour boat ride.

It’s a place where the boundary between the sea and the land is indistinct, where the sound of cars is replaced by the call of howler monkeys, where rainforest plays host to flocks of toucans, where turtles come to nest on the beach, and where one could be forgiven for thinking a triceratops might just pop its head out of the trees at any moment. To be able to sit in our B&B right on the lagoon and gaze out on this mighty ecosystem is a pleasure you don’t forget in a hurry. Even if fishing hadn’t been on the cards, I’d have been happy spending a few days there.

Tarpon overload in Tortuguero4.45am, and dawn was almost breaking as I sat sipping a coffee on the veranda waiting for Elvin to show up. It’s probably the most awake I’ve ever felt at that particular time of day. He arrived on the dot of five and we were off, making our way up the river and out through the breakers into the Caribbean.

As Elvin had killed the engine, the boat eased up on an impossibly benign sea and then… silence. The only thing to break the spell was the occasional surfacing turtle. It’s the kind of morning you could live a million times over and never tire of.

And for once, my early morning confidence was well placed. It took all of about 15 minutes before… bang, the rod thumped, the braid tightened and something started ripping line off the spool. The water erupted 50 metres from the boat as a tarpon rocketed from its home, silver flanks flashing in the early-morning sun. The serenity of moments before vanished as the fish thrashed wildly, shaking its head in an attempt to throw the hook.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it – nothing prepares you for the power of a tarpon. That first initial surge is so savage, it always catches you by surprise. I was only just adjusting to the idea of what the next few minutes would be like it when, of course, it was off.

Tarpon fishing is like this – you know you’re going to lose more than you catch, but it was just nice to know that they were out there feeding. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait too long before the braid was whistling through the guides once more. Again, the line came shooting upwards in an arc, as what looked like 100lb of iridescent muscle blitzed through the surface, fully airborne in a fury of head-shaking acrobatics. Time and again it came bursting out of the water and mentally I prepared myself for what I felt would be the inevitable slackening of the line. But this time it never came. The circle hook held and the fish was well and truly on.

Tarpon overload in TortugueroThe day’s first beads of sweat began collecting on my forehead as the rod bucked in my hand and line peeled of the reel. And so it went for some 20 minutes, before finally, a few last-gasp runs and the fish came to the boat. It was a little lighter than our first estimations – ‘only’ 60-70lbs after all. And it was beautiful. As we nursed it at the side of the boat, I wondered whether I had ever had such a perfect start to a day’s fishing. I glanced at my watch – the skunk was out of the bag and it wasn’t even 6.30.

Later on that evening, sipping a beer on the veranda, I would reflect on a day that saw us boat seven tarpon in all, plus a couple of monster jacks thrown in for good measure. Tarpon fishing just isn’t like that usually – not in my experience at least. It’s probably for the best, I’m not sure my arms could have taken another day of that.

Tarpon overload in Tortuguero

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