Tarpon fishing ain’t easy. We all know that. Even enrolling in Tarpon 101 only guarantees hours on the casting deck and, if lucky, a few shots at a fish. In his essay “Green Chimneys” writer Franklin Tate not only goes in for a one-on-one Florida Gulf Coast tarpon tutorial, he employs a few more offbeat tactics to attempt to land Megalops atlanticus, including whistling Thelonious Monk tunes to calm his frenzied brain. Blown casts ensue, but through it all Tate leaves with a renewed admiration for a wild, majestic and unknowable creature.
I thought a lot about distances back then. The Straits of Florida, the Gulf, Florida Bay—you could go for miles in all directions. When I looked at a map, all was blue around the Keys, especially west and southwest. Having been a diver in one small portion of that blue, I was overwhelmed by how much of it there was. I thought of it as maritime frontier—real wilderness—and spent my boyhood summers on it and in it.
Though I was on the reefs, diving for lobster and spearfishing, the flats and the deeper water at their edges held my fascination. I loved heading across Florida Bay from lower Matecumbie and finding mangrove-skirted isles with creeks cutting them in half. Back then, the flats and their edges were quiet, and pretty much the only time you saw someone on one was when they had run their boat aground.
Still, there were occasional tales of someone chucking shrimp at bonefish or crabs at permit, and nearly every tackle shop sported pics of anglers with man-sized, silver-sided fish. A closer look at those lantern-jawed, armour-scaled beings and you’d swear they were the same ones Fred Flintstone caught while on holiday from the gravel pit.
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