Americans love to brag. Anglers do too. Thus logic might tell you that American fishermen are some of the tallest teller of tales – or tails – in the Seven Seas.
But when it comes to fly fishing for tarpon and the waters of Southwest Florida, it’s no boast: The shallow, brackish ocean passes in Boca Grande yield record-size fish that can weigh up to 350 pounds and measure eight feet long. “It’s no wonder,” says Lee Rose, Communications manager for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, that “Field & Stream magazine (the pinnacle of outdoors reporting) named the area among the 25 hottest fishing spots in North America.”
The only fish known to have an air bladder, allowing it to breathe oxygen from the surface, the tarpon is a highly sought-after game fish and a favourite of fishermen, who adore it for its phenomenal brute strength. Even the smaller tarpon found in the holes, passes and reefs between Fort Myers and Sanibel weigh between 50-90 pounds, with many clocking in at more than 100.
In Boca Grande Pass, however, where the tarpon migrate in late spring and early summer by the record-breaking thousands, world-renowned catches have been noted more often than not. The tarpon particularly like this area because of the Boca Grande Hole, a spot 100 yards wide by 350 yards long where the more gigantic elders can congregate comfortably on their journey. This is where the fish in the 150-200 pound range have been snagged.
Indeed, numerous tournaments for both professional and recreational anglers are held at Boca Grande Pass throughout the season, which runs from April through late July or August. The place has become so well known for its humongous catches that in 1988, a handful of local guides formed the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association and drew up a charter to preserve the fishery. Rules of the Boca Pass include using tackle strong enough to take on at least a 50-pound fish and controlling it out of the way of others attempting to do the same. In addition, it’s forbidden to anchor or short drift in The Pass (unless, of course, you want to upset your fellow anglers and not be welcomed back into the Hole).
The only other gear you need besides equipment and a boat is live bait – squirrel fish, mutton minnow, crab and shrimp – and a license. But an ethical guide, especially for international visitors unfamiliar with both the waters and the laws, is essential as well. The tarpon is inedible, and it takes more than 50 years, on average its natural life span, for one to grow to about 150 pounds. Since 1989, it costs $50 to kill one.
Even the most experienced fishermen hire local guides, who collectively practice an ethical catch, which consists of the weigh, pose-with-smart-phone and release program. Ensuring the image you take home is celebrating getting the big one, and not one of your boat being sucked under in a six-knot tide.
With direct flights to Miami from London Heathrow, it couldn’t be easier to travel with Virgin Atlantic.
Have you ever tried fly fishing for tarpon in Boca Grande? Share details of your trip with us in the comments section below.
Written by Jen Karetnick