Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Voices from the Past: John A. Sea (1896)

I've been thinking a lot about tarpon fishing of late, and so I thought I'd put a few early pieces up for people to read. This one is from the October-November edition of The American Angler and features a short but interesting piece on tarpon fishing in Aransas Pass, Texas.

FIghting a Tarpon in the Breakers

BY John A. Sea

Yes, I feel that I must again talk with you about the experience of the afternoon of October 3d, which comes most frequently and vividly to my memory. I live over and over again the excitement of that fight. I started about three o'clock for tarpon. Johnnie Holmes was my boatman, than whom, I wish no better. In less than twenty minutes after we reached the north side of the Pass, I had two tarpon strikes, had sent two big fellows into the air, and was hooked to the third one. Having landed two tarpon on my first day out (Oct. 2nd), I had begun to think myself "a considerable sort of a fellow." This fish seemed to know it and to be determined to take some of the conceit out of me. Leap after leap into the air, his silver armor gleaming, a hurried reeling in of line, only to have it again taken out with a mad rush; all this and more, but that part of a tarpon fight has been told over and over again, so I shall only recall the part of this contest I have never seen described.

Slowly, steadily, he works with the ebb tide rushing through the Pass. The wind is against him but he goes with the tide gulfward. The breakers roll and fall with heavy thuds at the mouth of the pass, but he seems determined to go through them. Foot by foot, inch by inch, we fight over the water. Hands and arms ache but he cannot be stopped. Johnnie, the boatman, guides the boat skillfully and to my remark that the fish is on his way to Cuba, replies, "We will go with him." No cowardly boast, when you look seaward and see the height of the waves rolling in.

The entire channel is passed and we are in the Gulf. Here begins new excitement. The high green waves with their white crests must be passed through and that fish conquered. Every nerve is tingling. The blood is flying through the veins. We are in the breakers. I see my fish gleaming in silver high above me, as we sink into the hollow of the wave, which rolls on and a bluish green wall is between us, through which the line hums and cuts with a sharp hiss. Then we ride upon the wave's crest and see our antagonist surging through the water fifty yards away and below. Wave after wave is mounted and we are well outside, and now we bend to our oars, striving to regain the quiet waters of the Pass. The tarpon, too, changing his mind, starts with a rush shoreward. So quickly does he move that we cannot get our boat around in proper position and the crest of a big wave breaks over us. John is skillful and strong and we are soon in control of boat and line. We get back into quiet water. We think we are now fairly certain of victory, when he again leaps into the air, shakes himself magnificently, and as soon as he strikes the water starts seaward. Again we are in the breakers. The reel whizzes as he darts away and with aching, almost "feelingless" fingers and arms strive to regain a taut line that stretches a hundred yards away.

Slowly, literally inch by inch, I gain. Over the waves we fight, sometimes below him, sometimes above him, sometimes he gleams in silver in the center of a great wave, that, crested in white, bears him to the blue sky line above. He is getting tired and begins to swim uneasily, rolling from side to side. Another half leap, a rush and he grows more languid in his movements. My time has come, and again I reel in. He turns and tries feebly to pull away, but his strength is about spent and I bring him slowly to the boat. We have now worked into the quiet water behind the jetties, where he is soon gaffed and taken into our1 boat.

Tired, oh so tired, we start homeward, and then for the first time, realize time and space. An hour and a half have we fought, covering four miles of water, with three trips through the breakers. If a Florida tarpon can make a more gallant fight, "may I be there to see."

-- Dr. Todd

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