What I owe to the tarpon

January 24, 2016

That night I returned to the first tarpon spot to find that they had been spooked off by a docking boat. I tried the other spot but the wind was howling and the current was strong. It appeared the only thing present were jumping spotted eagle rays. I fished the sabiki rig a bit and it seemed the sardines had appeared after being absent the previous night. Last night there were tarpon and no bait. Tonight it was bait but no tarpon.  They were, however, a new species for me.

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The next morning I awoke to overcast skies. I walked the docks in search of bonefish.  I wasn’t the only one up early in search of fish.

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The first thing I found was a yellowfin mojarra, a new species I thought I had caught previously, but actually didn’t.  Bonus!

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The overcast skies ended up being a huge help, as it made the bonefish a bit more confident and much less spooky then they usually were. Casting fresh market shrimp on a jighead seemed to work well.

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I continued to fish around the island.  At one dock, one of the locals caught my attention to ask me what “that” was as he pointed to the bottom. Well “that” was a strange shape on the bottom that I immediately recognized to be a batfish. I probably would not have seen it on my own! I kept trying to send a baited jig down to it but there were so many pesky wrasse and small fish that would get the jig first.

Like this slippery dick

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Eventually I just gave up and let the stripped, empty jig hit the bottom in front of the batfish. Much to my surprise, its head turned ever so slightly in the direction of the jig. And then slightly more. It was now pointing directly at the bare jig. I gave it the subtlest twitch and in a flash the jig disappeared. In disbelief, I pulled my line tight and up came the batfish! It had taken a bare jig after I had gone through so much trouble trying to get past all the bait thieves! My lucky streak was continuing.

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After another bonefish, I noticed the jighead began to straighten.  Being short of three pounds, these fish were unbelievably strong!

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I opted for an Owner hook with a splitshot crimped on instead.

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The bonefish approved!

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I spotted a small yellow stringray cruising along the grass flats and dropped my jig to him. He positioned over-top of it and made the familiar vacuum motions that rays do when they take a bait. When I set, a bare jig was returned to me. This was the first time I had been stripped by a ray, I didn’t know them to do such awful things!  Oh well… there were more bonefish.

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Eventually, rain began to fall and I retreated to my hostel for breakfast.

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On my way back from the dive shop to confirm tomorrow’s dives I spotted some fascinating micro fish in a small sheltered bay. I grabbed my tenkara rod, but halfway back I realized I had forgotten my shrimp. I spotted an old tomato slice on the ground and figured it would do, how tricky could these small fish be?

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Twenty minutes later, after the little fish ignored just about everything I did I began to bounce a piece of that tomato on the surface. This seemed to interest them just enough to bite, but if I used a piece small enough that they could fit into their mouths they wouldn’t be interested. After about an hour of painstakingly downsizing and upsizing bouncing tomato bits, I finally had one in the tank! What a process! They appeared to be mangrove mollies.

Mangrove molly
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After an hour of bouncing tomatoes I needed a change of pace.  I took the hostel’s canoe out for a cruise over the flats to look for more bonefish.

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I made a quick stop to dispose of some dead bait at the local tarpon preserve.

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With the setting sun I failed at spotting any bonefish, but I got a great sunset.

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Retreating to the mangroves…

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I returned to the hostel and took a nap as I waited for the darkness where I would hopefully find another tarpon bite. I once again found that the tarpon had been spooked away from the first spot I checked.  I did find a banded coral shrimp who seemed to be glad about this.

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My other spot was being hit by howling winds such that the eagle rays seemed to be the only ones home. While slowly reeling the sabiki for some sardines, I accidentally hooked into one of the eagle rays and watched it breach as it peeled line off my spool. I held on to the remote hope that it had bitten one of the sabiki flies and so I didn’t immediately break it off.

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After a long struggle on my light rod, I had it close enough to take a quick picture before it ran off again into the abyss. It was clear that there would be no simple way to land it and check for a fair hookset and the sabiki eventually gave way.

Much like the previous windy night, I caught some sardines but did not spot any tarpon.

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I had an early day of diving planned for tomorrow so I headed back for some sleep.

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