Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ditch Tarpon in Coastal Georgia

I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from my last post and soft announcement of my guiding service. I even found myself mentioned on the Troutrageous! blog, and for that I am especially grateful.  My wife and I found a little window of opportunity two weeks ago to get out of town, and without hesitation we packed the car and pointed south to Tybee Island, Georgia.  We are fortunate in that my wife's family has a place on the Backriver, and we have been going there for many years.  For some reason or another, however, I have always felt too out of my element to carry a fly-rod.  This time, I figured I would grab the 8 weight, my biggest rod, and try as I might.  If nothing else I could practice my double hauls!

After settling in, I headed over to the fly shop over in Savannah and talked to a few fellows about what to expect.  I grabbed a small box of flies, an extra leader, and armed with a little bit of information headed back to the island.  For the first couple of days, I struck out, fishing right off the beach and into the mouth of the backriver.  My plan was to wait until the next flood tide, and head over to Little Tybee to explore some of the creeks.  In the meantime, I headed to a little place on the island that for a long time I wondered, "what if?..."  It is a little ditch, always tannic, and mangrove-y looking.  I had seen fish splashing on previous visits, and knew that there must be some aquatic life in there.  I tied on a small clouser minnow, and chucked a few casts into the lower portion of the ditch. On my third cast, the fly was crushed and before I knew it, a small band of silver took flight into the air.  I couldn't believe my eyes!  I knew that I would have to see the fish up close to really believe what I was seeing.  Soon enough the fight was over, and the fish at hand.  When I beheld that eye, that eye that has driven so many dreams in so many anglers, I knew I had landed my first tarpon.  I reached for the camera; wait, where was my phone?!  Oh no, in my excitement, I had left it on the nightstand.  I rushed back to the house to tell my wife and grab my phone. She was in the middle of a painting, and so I headed back to get one on film.  I missed at least 7 fish before I finally went back in frustration.  Why couldn't I get a hook set?  Was that the only fish I would catch?  I had to get one on film!  That night, I did as much research as I could on baby tarpon.  The next few days played out much the same.  Hit after jolting hit, but still no positive hook-set.  Then, I found the answer.  The strip-set.  As a mountain trout angler, this was a skill I had never really had to master, and a light flick of the tip to set the hook was doing me no favors at the ditch.  After stinging so many fish, I think they were finally getting wise to what was going on.  Now, I was desperate.  But I knew that if I went out there half-cocked, I would blow casts, splash water, rant and cuss up and down the bank, and therefore catch nothing.  I took a deep breath and watched the surface.  It was early morning, steamy, but not miserably hot.  A few tarpon made splashy surface rises, which I found out was a means to gulping much needed air in the low-oxygen environment of the tannic backwater.  Then I spotted a gentle roll.  A well placed cast was made, and I began to strip.  Strip, strip, strip....Bam!  I made a solid hook-set, and the fish took to the air.  I relished every moment of the dance, but it was over all to soon.  This time, I had my camera with me.

I felt satisfied, and figured I would let the little guys rest.  Their position seemed hardscrabble at best, so I figured they needed all the help they could get.  But at least I know where they are, and hopefully they will still be there next time we head to the coast.

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