When the Stars Align: Hooking a 120 lb. Tarpon in the Florida Keys

As Tom Petty so aptly put it, “the waiting is the hardest part.” I’ve waited nearly 10 years for the stars to align just right. Five straight trips to the Flordia Keys blown out by weather . . . yes, five trips in a row where I’ve been dismissed from tarpon class early, through no fault of my own. Mother Nature had not been kind to me in Florida.

One of my good friends down in the Keys dropped me an email, the kind that read with an urgent sort of tone, about big tarpon arriving a few weeks back and that they were sticking around to enjoy the nice weather. The forecast looked promising as I continued to receive an endless stream of emails, seemingly one for every inch of snow we were getting in western Pennsylvania. The subject lines ranged from “you have to get down here,” to “what are you waiting for?” and “fish are here sooo early this year.” My favorite was “dude skip out of work.”

I checked some airfares and looked at the five-day forecast, wondering if the stars will continue to stay in my favor. I then called my oldest son Mitch and suggested he skip his classes on Friday and Monday to join me. After all, there were things he could learn on a boat in the Keys that they don’t teach in college these days. Fortunately, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. He decided that missing a couple of classes wouldn’t put him too far behind, even if it was one week prior to the school’s spring break.

We left the dismal weather in Pittsburgh and flew to Fort Lauderdale, along with a million spring breakers. Ugh. Overall, however, it was smooth sailing. We arrived to 20 mph winds and some frothy water conditions, but the forecast called for sun and light breezes for the next five days. “Come on stars, don’t fail me now,” I said to myself with fingers crossed. We stayed with friends Linda and Dave Denkert in their house in Islamorada. Their hospitality was unparalleled; putting us up and putting up with us.

The weather settled beautifully to 5 mph and not a cloud in the sky, both of which are the make or break components of flats fishing. We fished all day Saturday and Sunday – low fish, high fish, hungry fish, indifferent fish, happy fish and obstinate fish. In other words, pretty typical tarpon fishing and the ingredients for the love / hate relationship flats anglers have with these fish. If you’ve never done this type of fishing before, then you’re missing an incredible day of fun. We probably had at least 70 or 80 shots those two days. We jumped eight fish and managed to land just one, but boy she was a toad, taping in at about 120 pounds. It was the first big tarpon Mitch has ever landed. He did a great job, especially considering how intimidating tarpon fishing can be for a newbie.

The food in the Keys is good no matter where you go. We ate appetizers and drank a few cold Kaliks at the Lorelei and also enjoyed the same at the Island Grill and Ma’s Fish Camp. There were plenty of awesome fun loving people around; enjoying the finest the Keys has to offer. The local color of its visitors in winter makes for some great people watching.

If you’re interested in giving tarpon fishing in the Keys a try, Dave Denkert mentioned he has a few good slots left starting right now and unbelievably he still has some June dates as well. The flats are relatively unpressured in March and April. So check the forecast and give me a shout via email if you’re interested. I’ll put you in touch with his wife, Linda, to book your visit. If you like to tarpon fish, this should be high on your list.

By: Joe Codd, Saltwater Department Manager
Special thanks to Joe’s son, Grady Codd, for lending his editing skills to the video above.