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Fishing For Tarpon And Tuna

( Originally Published 1912 )

THE tarpon is one of the most highly prized game fish of salt water, a large fish that fights wonderfully when hooked, leaping sometimes ten feet from the water. I do not suspect that many readers of this work are tarpon fishers but if any ever have the opportunity it is a sport that is second to none, and should not be passed by without a trial.

The tarpon is found in the Gulf of Mexico and off the east coast of Florida, the most famed places being Indian River Inlet, Jupiter Inlet, North Inlet, and all the way around to Tampa Bay, and down along the west side of the Gulf to Tampico, Mexico. Tarpon move south in the fall and winter and northward in spring. They appear along the Florida coast in February, and along the Texas coast in March, but are not found in their greatest numbers until April and May. They do not take a bait until the last of May.

This fish resembles a herring somewhat in outline. It is a slender, graceful fish, and is covered with enormous silvery scales. The color on the back is a deep bluish or purplish, silvery on the sides and beneath. The dorsal and anal fins are of peculiar shape, and the tail is large and deeply notched. The average weight of the full grown fish is from 75 to 150 pounds, but it is said to reach a weight of 400 pounds and a length of eight feet.

The fish are such great fighters and there is such great sport in angling for them, that a number of tarpon clubs have been formed, and these clubs regulate the strength of tackle that may be used by the members. They require the use of very light tackle, and prizes are given for the record fish.

Tarpon are fished for mostly in the morning, but are also taken on moonlight nights. They are caught with mullet bait. They are taken mostly by trolling the outfit at about 75 or 100 feet behind the boat. A good boatman is a necessity.

The tackle usually employed is a one-piece rod of lance-wood, split bamboo or greenheart with removable butt, double guides and agate tip. The usual length is about six feet six inches, and the weight is about twelve or thirteen ounces for the tip and about the same for the butt. Quite large tarpon have been taken on rods with a six ounce tip, and No. 9 twisted linen line, which will stand a strain of only eighteen or twenty pounds, and this is the tackle required by the Aransas Pass Tarpon Club, of Aransas Pass, Texas, but the really large tarpon are not taken on such tackle, or to be more exact they are not held by it. The standard lines are from 2.1 to 30 thread linen, and will stand from forty-two to sixty pounds strain. The reel must be a tarpon reel of rubber and German silver, holding 250 yards of wet line. It should have a handle drag, which is described elsewhere, and this should be regulated to a pull of about eight pounds. The reel should be of high quality. The hooks used should be those made for such fishing. The Van Vleck with forked barb is a favorite, and there are others of the regular pattern that are all right. A wire leader, attached to the line by a strong barrel swivel is used and The first ten feet of line should be double. It is well to make some provision for the sharks that inhabit the same water with the tarpon, and are likely to get fast. For this purpose a six inch cotton line is inserted between the leader and the hook, or the entire leader may be of cotton wound to within six inches of the hook with copper wire. The tarpon swallows the bait and is hooked deep so that the unprotected cotton is well inside his mouth but where it cannot be cut by his boney jaws. The shark, if he takes the bait, snaps right shut on the leader and will thus sever the cotton line. In case you only expect to fish a few days it is better to rent tackle, as tarpon tackle is very costly.

The bait is trolled over forty or fifty feet of water. When the bait is taken the angler should set the hook instantly. In still fishing he should let the fish run thirty or forty feet before striking. The fish must be played in the same way as a smaller fish and it is usually a desperate struggle before the fish can be brought alongside and gaffed. He makes great leaps, sometimes actually leaping into the boat, and it is not only exciting but even dangerous some-times. He also sounds deep, and makes long rushes which must be checked by the reel brake, and it will be necessary to "pump" him sometimes.

The boatman must be an expert in handling a boat and must keep the stern turned towards the fish at all times. He must know all about the habits of the fish, and how to catch them, and when you bring the fish in he must know how to gaff him, and must do the gaffing.

Tarpon are no good as food and are only caught for the sport and to mount as trophies. The small ones are always released. To do so they are gaffed carefully under the jaw and held until the hook is extracted.

The only rival of the tarpon as a game fish, is the great leaping tuna of the California coast, near the Santa Catalina Islands. There it reaches an average weight of 150 pounds, but I don't know how heavy it really does get in the Pacific, though in the Atlantic, where it is found from New Jersey northward it reaches a weight of 1200 pounds. These monsters have never been taken with rod and line, and the record is a 680 pound fish. At Santa Catalina is the greatest sea fishing to be liad anywhere in the world, and the fishing is all conducted on true sportsman's lines. There is one club known as the Three-Six Tackle Club that will not use a line heavier than a 6 thread linen, which will not stand a strain of more than fifteen pounds. It seems impossible to catch such large fish as tuna, which have such a reputation for fighting, on such tackle, and of course the large ones could not be held with it. I think the record for this tackle is a sixty pound fish. Ordinarily the same tackle is used for tuna as for tarpon. Flying fish are used for bait. The leader should be of phosphor-bronze, six feet long, and the line for ten feet should be double. The bait is cast into a school of the fish when they are chasing flying fish, and after hooking the fish it is sometimes hours before he is tired out, and the boat is towed several miles. The fishing is done from small motor-boats made specially for tuna fishing.

The Atlantic tuna or Canadian tuna, is sometimes called horse mackerel, in fact it is more often known by that name than by the name tuna. They grow to an immense size, 1200 pounds or even more, and it seems that they are the same as those found in the Pacific as regards fighting qualities, except that the largest fish of any kind are not the fiercest fighters. They are found very rarely as far south as New Jersey, and are most abundant off the coast of Nova Scotia and especially in St. Anne's Bay and Mira Bay, Cape Breton. These fish are seldom taken with rod and line but are harpooned. A few years ago Mr. J. K. L. Ross, writing for a certain sporting magazine said that he never knew of an Atlantic tuna being landed with rod and line, but since that time he has been fortunate enough to capture the world's record tuna taken in this way. This great fish weighed 680 pounds. I understand that he used a tuna rod of one piece and butt; a special Vom Hofe reel holding 300 yards of line, and a No. 39 linen line of that length. Mr. Ross is probably the most enthusiastic Canadian tuna fisherman living and has hooked large numbers of these fish but invariably loses them by the tackle giving way or the line being cut by the other tuna. Some of his earliest trouble of this kind was caused by the bait slipping up over the wire leader to the line, after the fish was hooked, and the other fish in their efforts to get the bait bit the line. He put an end to this trouble by fastening a short piece of wire crosswise of the leader to keep the bait from traveling off the leader and onto the unprotected line. A twelve foot leader is used and it is made of piano wire. The hook is the largest tuna hook with a six inch chain attached. If the fish is finally brought to gaff, a harpoon style gaff which has a rope attached and detaches from the handle after hooking the fish, is the kind that must be used. As such a large fish could not be taken into a boat he must be towed ashore.

Think of capturing a 680 pound fish with a line that probably would not stand a strain of more than eighty pounds ! What fine handling of rod and reel must be necessary to check the rushes of such a fish on 300 yards of line! The fish will tow a boat many miles, and if allowed to have their own way will do so for days. At the very best it would take hours of work to land such a fish and the catch would not dare be allowed a minute's rest until brought to gaff. The Pacific tuna tackle would be useless here.

Science of Fishing:
Use Of Natural Baits For Fishing

Handling The Hooked Fish

Fishing For Black Bass

Fishing For Trout And Salmon

Pike,picherel, Muskellunge, And Pike-perch

Sunfish, Carp, Catfish And Suckers

Fishing For Tarpon And Tuna

Fishing For Other Sea Fish

Making, Repairing, And Caring For Tackle

General Information And Advice On Fishing

Read More Articles About: Science of Fishing

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