C.A. Richardson and a 190-Pound Tarpon
This past summer, I spent some quality time fishing for tarpon around the mouth of Tampa Bay with one of my favorite clients, Mr. Clay Albers of Slidell, LA. Clay was determined to get his personal best tarpon this year and had spent lots of time preparing for his trip with me by getting into shape and choosing the one week in my schedule when the big tarpon historically roll in from the Gulf. But the best laid plans sometimes go awry unless you have a great “Plan B”.
Well on day one, we only managed to jump 3 tarpon and landed one silver king that weighed out around 110 pounds, not exactly what Clay had hoped as his big catch… but a good icebreaker. The following day the wind was up around 20 knots which made our prospects pretty slim and limited us to very few productive spots but we managed a few bites in deeper water. Eventually, we scored another tarpon in the 110 pound range which was very respectable on light tackle for Clay considering the conditions, but I knew we could do better if the weather would settle down and cooperate. Now we were facing our third and final day, fortunately the weather was much improved… so we headed out to search for tarpon on the beach first.
After about 45 minutes on the beach we launched a small 80 pounder which we let Clay’s son, Spence battle for about 25 minutes before we had it alongside my Hell’s Bay skiff for pictures. It was lots of fun but not the monster tarpon we had our sights set on this trip. Soon afterward, we hooked up again but that fish jumped about half a dozen times before throwing the hook. I made a few moves to different locations but we struggled to get any tarpon bites so we broke for lunch and decided to focus on the outgoing tide in the afternoon. The pressure was on for sure so I hoped my “Plan B” would work or we would have to wait until next year to accomplish Clay’s goal.
As the outgoing tide started to crank up, the stronger current flow brought crabs floating along the surface so we dipped up a few of the crunchy tarpon treats and started making drifts along the shipping channel using the crabs as bait. On our third drift down the channel we finally got a take and Clay got a good hook set that made me feel confident that the tarpon would stay buttoned up for the duration if we didn’t run into any complications. But there are always some harrowing moments and complications when battling a tarpon! About 10 minutes into Clay’s battle, the tarpon made a big run and cart wheeled out of the water in front of the skiff. That’s the moment I knew we had a monster silver king hooked up! The fished looked to be at least a hundred eighty pounds by first impressions, so there was a lot of excitement on the boat.
I encouraged Clay that this tarpon was the one he’d been after and to keep steady pressure on the fish to ensure the tarpon’s eventual capture. Over the next grueling 90 minutes Clay endured several more spectacular jumps from the beast plus one scare from a bull shark appearance. I felt like we were winning the battle, except Clay was physically exhausted and barely able to apply the necessary pressure on the tarpon to land it. Both Spence and I really pushed Clay verbally to overcome his exhaustion so we could get a gloved hand on the fish and seal up an official catch. Clay expressed that he’d land this tarpon if it killed him (figure of speech). He was committed to finishing what we had started!
A few minutes later the giant tarpon succumbed to Clay’s relentless pressure and allowed us to land it about 2 miles from the area she was originally hooked. About an hour and forty minutes had transpired since we had hooked up so we were going to have to spend a significant amount of time reviving the big tarpon before we could release it safely. It gave us plenty of time to admire this regal beast and re-live the battle. But before we sent the big fish away under her own power we took some measurements to get an accurate weight of Clay’s personal best tarpon. Here were the stats for Clay’s tarpon: its length was 74” and the girth was 46.5” which brings the estimated weight to be about 196 pounds… very impressive, mission accomplished for Clay.
By Capt. C.A. Richardson