The tides at Marathon were moving in with vigor.
As the sun began to set over this beautiful setting in the Florida Keys, a pair of big tarpon surfaced just behind the boat.
With two rods out and rigged with super-sized live mullet, hopes were high one of them would take the bait.
A few minutes passed and the only action was taking in the unseasonably cool, peaceful surroundings.
One of the spinning rods doubled over and the drag began to scream.
My friend Todd Jurasek grabbed the rod as our guide Capt. Dave Schugar of Sweet E’Nuf Charters coached him on fighting his first “silver king”.
That nickname is used across state lines and international boundaries to describe what many believe is the greatest inland gamefish on the planet.
“I’m used to catching bass and rainbow trout in streams. This is unbelievable,” Jurasek said as he witnessed the five-foot fish do its famous tail walk.
The only thing more incredible about tarpon than their rugged, yet beautiful appearance is their jumping ability. And this fish put on a show.
“Once I grab the leader the fish is caught,” Schugar said, signaling the goal is to get the fish to the boat, snap a photo and release without harm.
Handling an 80-pound tarpon in a boat could get ugly and the goal was to let that fish have a chance at producing more of its kind and thrilling other anglers down the line.
Shortly thereafter we had a false alarm as I hung into a big shark that cut the line.
And just before we left, I hung into a tarpon about the same size as Todd’s that jumped a couple of times before doing what these fish are famous for besides jumping.
It shook its head and disconnected the hook.
I was bummed but not too much.
All of this action happened in four hours in a short run from the dock that saw us getting a real taste of what seeking this amazing sportfish is like.
My interest in tarpon comes from a childhood encounter.
At Bailey’s Fish Camp in Bridge City, TX longtime owner, the late Rob Bailey told me and my Dad he wanted to show us something.
In a long cooler where he normally kept bait shrimp to sell was a six-foot-long tarpon.
“A guy caught it out at the 18-mile light and wanted me to hold it until he could find a taxidermist to bring it to,” Bailey said.
A wide-eyed young Chester was blown away and vowed that one day he would catch a tarpon like that.
Thankfully we have come a long way in how we view fisheries. Today we can measure a fish, snap a photo and get a replica that looks as good as the real thing done without killing the fish.
And I saw that type of conservation ethic well intact with Capt. Schugar.
I also had tremendous conversations about his love for catching broadbill swordfish in super deep water and experiences catching tuna, marlin and other fish accessible via the Keys.
My time in the Keys was short and my time fighting the big tarpon was even shorter but it made me want more.
A return trip is in the words and I look forward to another evening in pursuit of the silver king.
Trips like that with skilled, ethical guides in tremendous settings seeking even more tremendous fish are the building blocks of fishing dreams.
And in times like these, we need to keep our dream big and in this case with a touch of sliver.