Blackout 2014 got me thinking about tarpon

Paul Smith
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I’m writing in the dark. It’s Blackout 2014 and the only heat source I have in my house is a propane fireplace. Goldie and I are sitting in the downstairs family room wearing LED headlamps and basking by the warmth of a flickering gas flame, next best thing to a crackling woodstove.
We have a propane kitchen stove as well, so life hasn’t been too rough.

I salvaged the remnants of our Christmas turkey out of the freezer and Goldie peeled a bunch of vegetables while I was out on the ATV plowing the driveway.

By mid-afternoon, a huge stockpot of spicy mouth watering soup simmered on the range, tantalizing me through the no-power, pre-supper hours. An India beer made the wait even more unbearable.

Finally the potatoes and noodles were softened to perfection and I fetched colourful Christmas bowls from the cupboard.  

There’s nothing better than hot steaming turkey soup to warm your spirits and soul during a cold festive power outage.

Speaking of cold, does anybody recall a winter this cold? We’ve been busting low temperature records daily. I went for a workout hike on my snowshoes a couple of evenings ago.

I ended up at the cabin where the temperature on the deck thermometer was a blistering -20 C. That’s bloody cold — actually the coldest I’ve ever seen it at the cabin.

I’d worked up a sweat on the way in and would not dare tarry long. When I stopped walking, the chill stuck into me like spear-pointed daggers. As I said, I was on an exercise walk and went all out, not worrying about perspiration management.

If I were to stay for a pipe or coffee at the cabin, I would have had to light a fire and warm the place up.

I had an hour’s walk ahead of me to get back to the truck, so I made an about-face and headed homeward.

I promised Goldie that I would not be late for supper. I made it to the table just in time for a moose stir-fry and a glass of chianti.

Goldie loves Florida sunshine. She’s not thrilled today, not the least bit amused by wind chills down to -30. I kind of like extreme weather but she’s a warm weather girl.

She just now muttered for the hundredth or so time since the first snow fell, “I wish I were stretched out on St. Pete’s Beach.” I keep telling her to embrace winter. She responds with looks that could cause serious frostbite.

I asked her to come snowshoeing with me. I even said I’d stomp and break trail with my 36-inchers; she could just toddle along behind with short forgiving shoes on a hard packed trail.

She’d have no part of it. She told me to get online and check the airlines for a seat sale to Tampa. I just might do that. I hear the late winter fishing in Tampa Bay is mighty fine.

So many Newfoundland folks go to Florida to enjoy the sun and take advantage of fantastic discount shopping, but very few bring along a fishing rod.

I never leave home without at least a pair of fly rods.

I love angling in Florida, and I’ve written about its merits in my column a few times before. I think that tonight, while I sit here in the dark, while cold northwest winds whip snow around outside, I’ll daydream a bit and relate to you a tropical fishing story.

Tropical trip

Goldie, my daughter Allison and I spent two weeks chilling this past August, figuratively that is, in the sunny south. Like always, I had my fly rods and reels securely stowed in my luggage.

I also dragged with me a couple of dandy sets of moose antlers in a duffle bag, but that’s a whole other story that I’ll tell you about another time. It was all legal and everything, but I had a bit of a tussle at U.S. customs in Toronto airport. I brought the antlers along as a gift to my good friend Barry Grady who lives in St. Pete. He’s an artisan of sorts and turns antlers into beautiful objects of art, everything from crib boards to miniature tarpon. Barry is my Florida fishing buddy.

Barry had just bought a vacation house in Englewood, a small town near Charlotte Harbour and Boca Grande, about two hours’ drive south of St. Pete’s. He excitedly told me all about his new place across a big orange bag of antlers that sat in the middle of his living room. He lucked into a fantastic deal on a fixer up house that backed right on the water near Boca Grande Pass, one of the best saltwater fly fishing locations on Planet Earth.

Barry is a very handy guy and the fixing up was no problem, just something for him to putter with when not fishing or working at the tackle shop.

Barry is a super avid kayak angler and has fully convinced me on the merits of these wonderful boats. Now he could launch into wicked fishing waters right in his own backyard.

Plans were made for Barry and I to get together for some fishing at his new little piece of heaven.

How many people have caught a tarpon in their own backyard? Not many, I suspect. Tarpon are pretty elusive fish and aren’t that easy to kick off your bucket list.

Barry and I left St. Pete’s about 4 a.m. and headed south across the Skyway Bridge. We picked up some breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts and sipped coffee at Barry’s new kitchen table while waiting for the first streaks of daylight to brighten the sky.

Barry told me with unconcealed excitement twinkling in his eyes that I’d have a shot at a tarpon off his dock at dawn. He had already caught several while working on the house.

Barefooted and wired with anticipation, I cast a small tan-coloured baitfish pattern towards the opposite bank of the creek, the mangrove lined creek behind Barry’s house.

This creek meanders slowly towards the bay, a bay that is full of big, silver Tarpon. The creek’s dark deep water is saline and tidal, a perfect nursery for baby tarpon, a place for them to feed and grow in relative safety, away from hungry ocean predators, before swimming into the productive and nutrient rich, but dangerous waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Even baby tarpon can provide fantastic sport of a fly rod. I used a seven weight and stripped my fly quickly across the black murky water. Just as I began my lift for another cast a silver flash lit up my neurons, sending electrical signals surging to nerves and muscles.

My arm reacted instinctively to set the hook, but steel did not meet bone this time around.

The silver flash disappeared into the dark abyss. I cast again and striped my offering at a tantalizing pace.

I felt a vicious tug and hit back with a strike of my own. This time the hook found its mark and my rod bent to the cork.

Tarpon fight every bit as brilliantly as Atlantic salmon. And a baby tarpon can easily outperform a five-pound grilse. They jump, run, and dive like no other fish I’ve ever encountered.

I once battled a 120-pounder for two solid hours in 100 degree heat, only to have the beast throw my hook in a mind-boggling aerobatic display.

But on this wonderful Florida morning, I tangled with just a wee baby of only a few pounds; nevertheless, my adversary stripped lined and kicked up quite a stink.

But after two minutes or so, I had him in hand.

Wow, what a start to a day of fishing: a tarpon in the backyard, small maybe, actually tiny in tarpon terms, but any tarpon is a good tarpon.

The rest of the day, paddling and flycasting around Boca Grande, and a very close encounter with a hungry shark, is story fodder for another day. Stay tuned for that one.

If you want Barry Grady to take you kayak fishing in Florida, give him a call at 727-742-3202 or send him an email him at .

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted


Organizations: Dunkin Donuts

Geographic location: Florida, India, Tampa Boca Grande Newfoundland U.S. Toronto Englewood Skyway Bridge

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