Bridge Fishing For The Silver King by James Smith
The Silver King is the Tarpon; the Bridge is the 7-Mile Bridge from Marathon to Crane Point Hammock in the Florida Keys. The Knight Key Channel under the 7-Mile Bridge holds some of the hottest tarpon fishing action in the Keys. A couple of other good spots are Vaca Channel and Bahia Honda Key. Marathon is located about midway on the Keys. The best tarpon fishing appears to be from Islamorada, south to Key West. Now I am talking about BIG tarpon. In the flats you will generally find smaller tarpon ranging up to 30-50 pounds. These smaller tarpon tend to migrate further north also. The larger 100 pounders pretty much stay out in the ocean and gulf and come in during rising tide to feed.
The spans that support the bridges cause swirling eddies in the water, attracting baitfish and other species. Regardless of small or large, the tarpon continues to be one of the most sought after game fish in the world and rightly so. Catch one and you’ll break your camera taking pictures, lose him and he’ll break your heart.
The tarpon migrates up from Cuba possibly, along the coast of Florida. This occurs from about mid April through June and into July. May and June are the best tarpon months. Tackle would consist of; a 7’ stiff, ocean spinning rod; and an open face spinning reel spooled with plenty of 20# monofilament.
Business commitments wouldn’t allow my wife and I to get away during the peak tarpon fishing time so we just caught the early run in mid April. We fished the 7-Mile bridge earlier in the morning with Captain Tina Brown, a sweet and knowledgeable fisher lady, who worked very hard looking for a tarpon. We caught a variety of smaller fish, learned a lot from Tina and enjoyed our half-day of fishing with her. That night we chartered Captain John Maddox, owner of Captain Pip’s Marina and Resort. John was a kick. He was just a laid back, good ‘ol boy, as easygoing as they come.
As we left the marina we stopped to catch some pinfish and a few ballyhoo for bait. The fishing had been slow under the bridge. We moved a couple of times to try different current conditions. We had seen a couple of boats take off chasing tarpon from the line-up under the bridge, but, so far we hadn’t had a strike. The night was pretty quiet; there was a beautiful full moon. We began to hear a few loud splashes. We were encouraged as tarpon will jump occasionally and we figured we might get lucky. We left the 7-Mile Bridge and anchored near a rock shoal. John surmised that incoming tarpon would pass through the channel around the shoal. Remember, I said that John was pretty laid back. That is I thought he was, until about 10:15 P.M when something hit a red/white straight, shallow runner bomber. John had run my wife and I through our “drill” as we left the dock. So once the fish was hooked and began spooling line, at an exceedingly rapid rate, John threw off the anchor, started the engine and handed my wife the spot light. She shinned it on my line cutting through the water and we were off to the races.
Now truthfully, John remained pretty calm and very professional. First, I have to explain that the end of the anchor rope was attached to a large buoy about the size of a basketball. This is so we wouldn’t have to take the time to pull up the anchor and could find it and retrieve it, after we landed the tarpon or whatever that big thing was spooling line like there was no tomorrow.
Once the fish is on, the boat follows the fish so the angler can catch up, i.e. putting line back on the reel faster than the fish can take it off. When you have a big fish on he also has the advantage of taking line anytime he decides to, drag on or me retrieving line as fast as I can. There happened to be a lot of grass floating on the water that night which made things a tad more difficult. John had to keep clearing the grass from the line every so often too. This big ol’ fish just kept cruising around in front of the boat and a couple of times went under the boat, which meant I got to run around trying not to get hung up on anything.
It seemed like an eternity, cranking continuously on that spinning reel. At a little before 11:00 o’clock the fish made a run back to the boat and under. Under the boat and back to the motor cutting the mono on the prop. Thirty-five minutes of pure ecstasy and no pictures to show for it. Captain John estimated the fish at over 100 pounds. A fish that size would probably be 6 foot or darned close to it. No one on the boat was disappointed. How could you be, you just had the thrill of your life. I’ll be living this one for a long time. In fact, I now have a new passion. What’s even more exciting is that my wife understands it. We’ll be heading to Marathon or someplace in the middle Keys next year and I can tell you where you’re going to find me, under the bridges with Captain John Maddox. I’ll probably go more into May and hope the “bite” is on 24 hours a day. Because I’ll fish it!
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