Damon Bungard 17/04/2013 | Posted in Big Tuna, Cuda, Fishing, Fly Fishing, JK Team Posts, Uncategorized
Lets’ face it — feeling power is fun. Getting towed around by a fish like a horse and chariot is fun. But once you tap into it, how do you control it?
Fish don’t like getting caught. Big fish like tarpon let you know it, from their initial aerial antics after the hook set, to the long power struggle that ensues as they try to match both muscle and wits. Just tying into one is always a memorable experience, whether landed or not.
On a recent trip to Puerto Rico’s Tarpon Nest Lodge near San Juan, I was fortunate enough to get some ‘mano a mano’ time with a few tarpon from a Cuda 14. Captain Omar Orraca was our host, and a good one at that. With access to various bays and backcountry tarpon haunts, Captain Omar knows both the resident and migratory tarpon that call the area home this time of year. My Team Grey Beard partner on this trip was ‘Indiana’ James McBeath. Each morning we’d load up Omar’s boat with a Cuda and Big Tuna, and head out searching for rolling tarpon, feeding birds, or other signs of hungry fish in the area. You know you’re dealing with a pro when he’s got a coffee in one hand, throttle in the other, and one foot balancing your kayak on the deck!
This was both a fly fishing and bait trip. Armed with some amazing flies from the Vermont Fly Guys, morning always started with casting big flies to rolling fish. Fly fishing there is tough though in the murky, deep water where sight fishing to individual fish isn’t really possible. One morning we saw active tarpon feeding on the surface, busting bait and drawing the birds — exactly what you want to see with a fly in hand. We raced over in the kayaks, and within minutes both had fish on. Minutes later, after a few aerial antics, we both had fish off! Such is the life of a tarpon fisherman. Before it was over, I did have one snook in the kayak, but by the time I could replace my bite leader the frenzy was over, wind was picking up, and fish were gone.
It didn’t take long to locate some of the bigger fish in deeper water though, and our style of approach here was to switch to bait and hope to entice some of the bigger fish cruising the deep channels into a snack with the tide change. The plan worked, and the fireworks ensued right when the line went tight with immediate aerials. Seeing huge fish cut backflips is always impressive, and definitely one of the things that makes you fall in love with tarpon fishing!
After the initial flurry, tarpon usually settle into long tug of war and power battle. Get ready to cover some territory and feel some muscles! This is where the Cuda really excels. Put your paddle in the paddle stager on the rod tip cover, settle into the seat, and hold on. You can transfer the work that is usually put into your rod/reel and back, into the kayak and let the fish pull it around to tire it out. Want to turn the fish to avoid it running onto a flat or obstacle to cut your line? Just put the rod on the side you want the fish to turn, and let it turn. Want to apply less pressure? Point your kayak at the fish. Want to apply more pressure? Let him pull you at an angle or sideways. You can stay closer to the fish in a kayak, maintain your line high out of the water to keep from getting cut, and really use it as an extension of your body during the fight. Try it!
All fights eventually come to an end, and handling a big fish definitely takes some getting used to. The stability of the Cuda was great though, even allowing me to turn sideways and kneel down to lip the fish and lift them up and relax with a big, silly fish grin.
Captain Omar always stayed close by to make sure we did it right, and we did it right every day, bringing fish to hand and having a great time doing it. At the end of the long day, it was back to lodge to clean up, wash reels, and enjoy a margarita or cold local cerveza by the pool. Big THANKS to Captain Omar for a great time, if you’re ever in the San Juan area and want a sore bicep, look him up.
I don’t often fish in salt, but when I do, I choose tarpon. Stay fishy my friends 🙂