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Articles: Una historia para recordar

by: Daniel Beilinson

September in Los Roques is a quiet month; there are few tourists and less anglers. The tropical storms lash the coasts of Cuba, Mexico and Florida but this amazing Venezuelan archipelago has a unique weather, which is not affected. The days in Los Roques are sunny and a bit windy. Bonefish fishing has proved to be very good and there are also good numbers of bonitos, horse-eye jacks and large tarpons.
From the time we arrived in Los Roques, I had the idea of catching large tarpons, specially by wading from the shore. This technique requires several skills: a fast and precise cast, iron nerves and great skill to hook them up. On-sight fishing is fascinating, specially when the tarpons are charging at schools of sardines close to the shore. You´ve got to let your fly fall right in front of the tarpon and be lucky enough so that he sees it, likes in and finally takes it.
We used to set out for tarpon after having caught bonefish in the 3-6 pound range in the morning . The first days turned out quite hard because they were not spotted easily, except for three opportunities in which we saw 3 different tarpons and I wasn´t able to hook them. We also saw large tarpons rolling and splashing in deep waters, but they didn´t take the different flies I cast.
Two days before leaving, we decided to try our luck in an island we´d already visited. We had seen some tarpons and many sardines near the shore. We saw many pelicans and seagulls when we arrived. There were many sardines but no tarpon. We got off the boat and waited for a signal on the shore. I had prepared a #10 rod, with floating line, a hard 50-pound test fluorocarbon shock tippet and a brown tarpon deciver with flashabou tied on an AKI OWNER 3/0 hook. I chose a 50-pound test shock tippet because we thought tarpons in shallow waters would be able to see a thicker shock tippet. After 30 minutes, the captain of the boat (Daniel, my guide Guareke´s brother) spotted a tarpon rolling off the coast. We saw another one some minutes later. Little by little the first tarpons started to come closer to the island. It was clear we´d made the right choice. There they were now; we just had to catch them.
In the beginning, they cruised in deeper waters, a bit far from the sardine school, but then they began approaching the shore and attacking the sardines in shallow waters. It was amazing to see them turning at high speed to return to deep waters or heading out of the surface, showing their eyes and their big mouth full of sardines. They were huge! They just cruised out of the sardine school and they suddenly charged at them. Then they would leave until another tarpon appeared. The birds were fluttering above our heads, heading to the water following the tarpons. It was amazing to watch these huge fish and the sea birds chasing thousands of sardines, which were trying to get away from their voracious attacks.
I tossed several unsuccessful casts. As the school of sardines had moved due to the continuous attacks of tarpons, pelicans and seagulls, we decided to do the same to be close to the action.
Suddenly we saw him!! A huge tarpon was about to enter the big shade of sardines from the deep waters. When he was within casting distance, I cast and placed the fly right in front of him. I felt the line become tense and I knew I´d got it. He immediately turned his body with a silver gleam of light and I set the hook two more times until he lifted his full body length out of the water, shaking his enormous head to get rid of the hook unsuccessfully. I bowed my row just in time. When he crashed back into the water, I knew he was still hooked. He headed down and began a run at that very moment. As the reel only had 250-yard backing, I shouted at Guareke to follow him with the boat. Otherwise, he would take the whole backing with him and we would lose him. Within seconds, we were chasing him on our boat. He leapt two more times, taking line and backing away with him. As time went by, I started to worry about the shock tippet. It was only a 50-pound test one and this tarpon was really big. We didn´t know his size for sure at that time, but we knew it weighed over 70 pounds. The reel was bearing to much drag but I didn´t want to put too much pressure because I was afraid of breaking the rod. I wanted to hurry because if the shock tippet had weakened due to the erosion of the big-boned mouth of the tarpon, it wouldn´t resist much longer. On one occasion when the tarpon came out to take some air, Guareke told me the hook was all right (in the outer border of the mouth) and the shock tippet looked fine. I relaxed. So far, I had fought for one hour&
I spent two more hours and I still couldn´t tame it. I adjusted the reel drag. Three hours passed by, then four. I didn´t know where to lay my rod and couldn´t understand how a fish could bear that battle for such a long time!! After exactly 5 hours I succeeded in laying him at the side near the boat. He turned and he finally gave in. I approached him to the boat slowly so that Guareke could take him from the shock tippet and put the Boga Grip. He had moved the boat closer to an island and dropped anchor. I was standing on the bow, keeping the tarpon at a side. When the guide attempted to put the Boga Grip, the fish offered some resistance, so he gave his brother (the captain) the shock tippet while he was trying to open the tarpon´s mouth to put the Boga Grip.
The tarpon had a huge jaw. It was not too long, maybe 5,30 feet or 5,70 feet metres long, but it was fat and had an amazing loin. It must have weighed between 90 or 100 pounds, maybe more. I was still standing on the bow and the guide kept trying to put the Boga Grip without success. Suddenly, the captain looked at me and smiled, as if he were apologising for something. When I saw him, I realized, to my horror, that he was holding the shock tippet with the fly. I looked at Guareke and watched the tarpon slip out of his hands without the Boga Grip in his mouth. Guareke tried to grab it again but it was so big and slippery that it just slipped away gently. That wonderful rival, which had been fighting for 5 hours, was just leaving and I wasn´t even able to take him a photo. The captain started the motor of the boat immediately and began the chase. Guareke wanted to gaff him but I didn´t go along with that. I would never agree to hurt a fish who had fought to save his life so hard. He deserved his freedom and his life!
I sat down, looked at the sky and then watched the tarpon swim back into the sea depths. On the one hand, I was satisfied because I had managed to defeat that amazing fish. On the other hand, I felt a deep sorrow for not being able to hold him in my arms. I said to myself: "Tomorrow´s another day and another adventure is surely to come". The following day, I caught a great 80-pound tarpon and I did hold him in my arms this time.
How wonderful fishing is!
I wish to thank Guareke for his expertise in guiding and Daniel, the captain, for his patience. They both accompanied those intense moments with full spirit and helped me reach my goal and make the most of my passion: fly fishing.

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