The Big One by Dennis Zambrotta

By Dennis Zambrotta

Florida Keys Tarpon from the shore. My son Nicholas recently received his
advance degree from Barry University in Miami, Florida. To celebrate the
family would take a side trip to Key West. This was to be my first visit
to the Florida Keys and I really wanted to at least take a few casts while
there. Having never fished for Tarpon I sought out the advice of
respected fisherman and author John Skinner. John and others gave me some
sound advice about what to use and when to fish. I knew the hookup to
land ratio with large Tarpon was meager at best so my milestones were to
at least hook a Tarpon, then maybe actually see it before losing it, and
lastly land it (hopefully).

After dinner and watching a Key West sunset with the family Nick and I headed out for some bridge fishing. We fished
a local bridge after dark from 10pm to midnight. It was a really dark new
moon night and there were no bridge lights. Casting 3/4 ounce white Andrus
Jetty Caster bucktails it took us an hour to get some action. We initially
were getting timid short strikes while using the bucktails tipped with
pork rind. I had no idea what was hitting them because there are so many
different fish around Florida bridges. I remembered that Skinner had told
me the Tarpon sometimes get very finicky and to downsize presentations
when that happens. It was hard to imagine these short strikes could be
huge Tarpon but I removed the pork rind so as to offer a smaller

Casting just the bucktail I had an immediate hookup to
something huge that jumped 3 or 4 times then threw the jig. I have done
lots of bucktail fishing for striped bass and hooked many nice bass from
bridges but it’s impossible to describe a hook up with a Tarpon – it felt
as if I set into a concrete wall… that jumps!

The splashes when the
Tarpon landed shattered the silence of the inky darkness. I know you’re
supposed to bow to the Tarpon when it jumps but if you can’t see it jump
you don’t know when to bow. I looked at Nick in amazement and all I could
say was, “Can you believe the size of that thing.” Three or four casts
later I hooked up with another jumping freight train that completely
spooled my Spheros 8000 loaded with 30 pound braid – it took line so fast
that the spool was almost too hot to touch! After that hookup I was
completely intimidated by these fish – I was thinking why can’t I hook a
small one? I went back to the car for my extra spool and patiently tied
on another leader with shaking hands. A few casts later I hooked into
another freight train – into the mono backing it went. As I contemplated
purposely breaking the fish off so as not to lose another spool of line
the fish turned and slowly swam back towards me.

After 30 minutes
including a close call with getting tangled in some nearby mangrove
branches I landed and released my first tarpon. Not sure how large it was
but I couldn’t lift it out of the water so my best estimated guess was
around 70 pounds. After releasing the Tarpon I sat down and shook – it
kicked my ass. At that point Nick managed a hook up with his own Tarpon
and jump it 6 times before it threw the jig. My one bit of advice to
anyone after Tarpon – do not use too much backing on a reel to save money
on braid – you may need all the available line capacity to land one of
these monsters. Bring heavy tackle – a rod with a lot of backbone. You’ll
need all the help (and yes, even luck) you can get. There is a reason
boats always chase hook ups with large Tarpon – you don’t have that luxury
from the beach.


Editors note :

Dennis Zambrotta is well know Rhode Island surfcaster and friend of the Surfcaster’s Journal Magazine since our humble beginnings.  He was fortunate to be one of the major players during the great Block Island Giant Striper Blitzes in 1980′s and he has recently wrote a  book about his experience,  Surfcasting Around the Block. A good read for any surfcaster.

Layout 1

4 comments on “The Big One by Dennis Zambrotta

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *