Daybreak; a balmy breeze brushes your back and cools the sweat beading on your forehead. You hear the unmistakable “swoosh” of a massive figure slicing through the surface and you send a corner-hooked crab toward the sound. A sharp tap, your line tightens and the sea explodes with the most impossibly amazing vision, as a mighty missile wrapped in shimmering scales launches skyward.
Power profound, dazzling aerial amazement; this is the silver king we call tarpon. Exuding a truly magnetic mystique, this legendary Florida fish boasts a peerless attraction for thrill junkies and highly technical anglers alike. Why would we ever risk such majestic magnificence? More on this in a moment.
First, a look at the Sunshine State’s history books reveals how the pursuit of tarpon engagements has deeply impacted coastal communities with an economic opportunity that helps sustain a full array of businesses from guide services, to bait and tackle shops to local hospitality industries. These entities depend on the tarpon; they depend on its history, its present, and its future. It’s not only the daily dollars derived from sport fishing expenditures — this is about tradition, culture, a way of life to which locals remain deeply devoted and outsiders fondly embrace.
Many great individuals like former president Teddy Roosevelt, prominent businessmen such as Thomas Edison and Barron Collier and renowned sportsmen like author Zane Grey; all of whom found soul-filling recreation at Southwest Florida’s tarpon lodges. But this precious species has also delighted scores of everyday anglers from all walks of life; each driven by the gleeful goal of feeling that power and witnessing those spectacular leaps.
Each of these anglers invested their time, their hard-earned resources, their mental and physical diligence with the hopes of securing that invaluable prize of saying “I did it. I caught a tarpon.”
This is truly a legacy fish. The tarpon has manifested more allure, driven more dreams, broken more hearts and beamed more smiles than any fish in Florida waters. All this amazing creature asks is that we leave an equally honorable story; one of sensible, sustainable water management based on science, bolstered by diligence and bound by appreciation. We must be legacy makers, not legacy breakers. Essential to this is Everglades restoration — a holistic look at ensuring an uninterrupted flow of clean water into this fragile, yet potentially powerful ecosystem. Tarpon and numerous other gamefish and forage species depend on “The Glades” for their life cycles, so protecting this unique area of the state stands paramount. The puzzle has many pieces, but clean water creates the common border and the master key.
While tackle and tactics have certainly developed throughout the decades, we still catch the exact same fish that thrilled the earliest recorded anglers. The tarpon has not changed; only its environment. That’s a gut-check reality we can no longer afford to ignore.
There was a day when anglers would dress in formal attire to fish for a species they held in the highest regard. Imagine what could happen if we showed tarpon as much respect today by devoting concerted effort to maintaining a healthy Everglades habitat for generations of silver royalty.
The tarpon have done their part. It’s time for us to do ours.
Chris Wittman is the Program Director at Captains for Clean Water, check out their work on Instagram @captainsforcleanwater