Monday, May 26, 2008

A Growing Addiction

Poling onto the flat long after Lower Keys guides have headed home the Gulf’s placid surface lay silently crimson before us. Back on the island clusters of pink tourists gather in Key West, ceremoniously watching the setting of the sun; a tradition here that transcends time. Their disillusionment grossly detached from that which we have come for. Such disparities have juxtaposed since the first tarpon anglers ventured to the Conch Republic in search of this shallow water leviathan.

Ahead the evening’s first roller breaks the meniscus momentarily levitating before slipping back into the oceans reflective waters. Its body uncharacteristically black against the copper hue of the Gulf; accentuated by the glowing orb that now dominates the western horizon. A distinctive suck reverberates through the heavy tropical air filling an unfamiliar silence as this prehistoric fish secures life sustaining air. We stare transfixed as if not to disturb that which has played out before us. An explosion on the flat breaks the breathless tension. The violence shatters the Gulf like a rock breaking a single pane of glass. The feeding frenzy has begun.

Jeffrey climbs from the poling platform and removes several rods from the gunnel of the skiff simultaneously pulling line from the reel in preparation. Another violent attack resonates within casting distance of the boat. In seconds the shrimp pattern lands within the tarpons dying footprint. For thousands of years these mysterious predators have plied these waters. They’re not here by accident. Neither is Jeffrey whose predacious nature mirrors the quarry he passionately pursues.

The fly lands yet briefly before the line stretches tight the hook finding its mark. Seventy-five pounds of gyrating electricity erupts from the shallow confines where this and a growing number of predators have gathered to feast. The beige fly line instantly vanishes yielding a thin tether of connectivity. In the distance the fish catapults from it liquid environs, momentarily suspended r before gravity sends the tarpon crashing to the darkened waters. This first personal encounter with a tarpon still almost a decade later unforgettably remain etched in my mind.

The tarpon makes one final lunge to break the proportionally thin leader before sliding defiantly alongside the small skiff. The diminutive hook wrapped of feather and fur easily falls from the cavernous abyss that constitutes this unique fish’s mouth. Jeffrey marvels at the creature he’s briefly been connect to even though he’s enacted out this situation thousands of times; his genuine allure impressionable. With one purposeful tail flick the tarpon disappears into the deceptively placid waters continuing its quest for oceans yet unknown.

This dusk escapade forever changed my notion of fly fishing for tarpon. Even had I not hooked a fish, where once I thought being connected to such giants required more machine than manpower, I now know the converse to be true. In the footsteps of Hemingway and those before him, I now know the purpose of their habitual journeys. Had it not been for the gracious guidance of Captain Jeffrey Cardenas that led to that fateful April evening, I may never have known what drives the passion of such men. As Neil wrote in the “The Needle and the Damage Done”, I too have succumbed to an addictiveness of sorts, yet for those who yearn to catch fish on a fly that urge is no less powerful.