Bahia Honda Tarpon II
As I mentioned last week, we shot the Bahia Honda episodes last May in the height of the tarpon migration and in the middle of a very breezy period. Bahia Honda was a great choice, because it was loaded with tarpon, and has a good lee from the relentless east winds the Keys had been dealing with for weeks. We trailered Tom’s new Yellowfin bay boat down and our camera boat, a Yellowfin 32’ arrived by water. Launching at the Bahia Honda State Park boat launch left us with only a couple hundred yards between the dock and the fish, which is nice when it’s blowing 25! The livewell was full of crabs, so all there was to do was to pick a span of bridge and drop anchor. Tom and Rich cruised the bridge for a few minutes, using the Lowrance units and their eyes to mark a fish filled lane before setting up and preparing to fish. The tide was coming in, so they set up on the ocean side of the bridge to drop baits back underneath where the fish were lying in the shade.
We anchored up next to them in the next bridge span as they began drifting crabs back. There were a variety of other boats around set up in a similar fashion, from flats and jonboats to big center consoles like our camera boat. Within a few minutes we saw boats around us putting fish in the air, dropping their anchor lines and heading off to the races. But, solid hook-ups eluded us. Tom and Rich changed up their baits, and adjusted their rigs often, but while it was obvious that we were in the fish, they couldn’t come tight. While tarpon are under almost every bridge in the Keys in the spring, each one fishes a little bit differently. Different baits, rigs and techniques are favored by local guides and anglers, and it quickly became apparent that they were doing something just a little bit different.
After releasing a nice tarpon, a guide that we had seen hook up with several fish since we arrived, did a loop near us and gave Tom and Rich a couple of quick pointers- longer leader below cork, size and distance of split shot from bait and size of crab. A minute or two later, they had adjusted their rigs and dropped back the smaller crabs. Within a couple of minutes they put one in the air, and then another and another.
Getting the bite is only a small part of the bridge fishing game. Tarpon are big powerful fish and they know how to use the bridges to their advantage. When hooked, they will often head right under the bridge and try to wrap up on the pilings. So, you have to drop your anchor (which is attached to a float) and chase them as soon as you hook-up. One of Rich’s tarpon took it to the next lever, going under a piling that the boat couldn’t get through, so they wrapped the rod with a life jacket and dropped it in so the fish could drag it through. Then they chased it around to the other side and retrieved the rod to continue the fight. Once the fish was through the bridge, it continued out into the Gulf, where we were exposed to the wind and we got beat up and wet. They landed a few and lost a few, and each time we would come back in and rehook our anchorlines and repeat the process.
Eventually, the tide turned and we reset so the baits would be drifting back from under the bridge towards the old railroad bridge and the ocean beyond. An hour or so after the tide turned you could see schools of tarpon coming across behind us rolling 5 or 10 at a time. They hooked a couple that came unbuttoned during some amazing aerial sequences, before Tom hooked a big one that jumped twice, then headed straight for the ocean. We made it through the old bridge pretty easily and Tom worked the big fish hard as we drifted out into deeper water. Eventually ,Rich leadered the fish and they pulled her alongside the boat for the release shot and the end of the show. She swam off well, then seconds later the water erupted as a huge hammerhead came out of nowhere and appeared to grab her by the tail. They splashed a couple of times then disappeared out of sight into the depths.
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