Thursday, September 14, 2006
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: The tarpon weren't exactly jumping out of the water
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
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- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
Jack Brady was easing his 21-foot, open cockpit boat out of the village of Oyster a few days after Tropical Storm Ernesto had roared through the Eastern Shore. Storm gusts had hit 80 mph at the nearby Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Up to 10 inches of rain had lashed the region.
In some spots, leaves had been stripped from soybean fields, tomato plants had been shredded, cornfields flattened and boat ramps and channels had been clogged with thick layers of reeds.
Brady was out to see what Ernesto had done to the tarpon fishing. In his 70s, he has been an inshore fishing guide, going after tarpon, drum, stripers, cobia, flounder and croaker since age 16. He has a shock of white hair, leathery skin from days on the water and a delightful waterman’s dialect.
Ask him how many tarpon have been brought to his boat, and he pauses to think for a moment; then says, “300 the past 40 years.”
That is phenomenal, considering Virginia is on the very northern end of the migration of this prestigious, silver-sided fish. Most years reported catches in the state range from about two to 20.
This has been a decent year, with 11 catch-and-release tarpon registered with the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament. But that figure reveals there is more to the sport than just catching fish.
Brady is on a post-storm scouting trip because he has a client who wants to come and take one final fling at the tarpon season before the fish head for who knows where, maybe sunny Florida or Mexico.
The peak of the Virginia tarpon action occurs July and August. In September, a couple of northeast blows usually are enough to send the fish south. The question Brady was out to answer, did Ernesto do the trick this time?
“I don’t know what the hurricane done to them,” he said. “I know they went to the ocean [during the storm]. If they didn’t come back they went on south.”
Brady’s trip isn’t all work and no play. He has brought along lightweight tackle and plans to fish for speckled trout while watching for tarpon to roll on the surface.
Once on the tarpon grounds, he locates a hole that falls from 4 to 30 feet, with some structure on the east side. It is here that he begins to cast leadheads jigs garnished with bright twister tails. Trout that measures 16- to 20-inches begin to take interest.
“I could stand here all day and do this,” he says. “I love to catch them specks. I like to feel them hit that lure. They are a fun fish to catch and a good fish to eat.”
And good looking to boot, with spotted sides that remind you of a mountain-born trout.
But they aren’t as noble as a tarpon, nor do they set angles crazy the way tarpon can.
Tarpon have a habit of rolling on the surface, either for food or fun or both. That is the activity that Brady is searching for. It is a game of patient waiting and watching.
Capt. Jack Brady.
“I ain't seen a green back or silver side yet,” he said, scanning the bright horizon. “If that guy wants to go tarpon fishing he will have to go potluck, hoping for the best and expecting the worst.”
Many of Brady’s clients are repeats. Some return year after year, vigorously searching for the first, epic bite. Others hit it big and can’t get enough. Like the group this season that had six strikes and hooked six tarpon, including a giant.
“That fish looked terrible coming out of the water,” Brady said. “He looked like he came out of the water 10-feet high. I know he was a 7-footer.”
The state record is a 130-pounder landed by Barry Truitt in 1975. Like many tarpon, the big one hooked by Brady’s client escaped.
Brady is beginning to doubt that there are any tarpon left following Ernesto’s northward rush.
“If there is tarpon here he ain’t sticking his head out of the water,” he said. “He’s not looking at sunshine. In August, they were thick enough to walk on.”
As Brady turns the bow of his boat westward toward Oyster, he has one more observation about tarpon.
“He is like a woman. He has a mind of his own and you ain’t going to change it.”
CAPT. JACK BRADY lives in Oyster and can be contacted at (757) 331-2111. His guide fee is $400 and he will take up to four anglers.