Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"What's That Daddy?" Big Fish, Little Girl


Tarpon are a protected species now. They're supposedly not very good to eat but they sure are fun to catch, jumping like crazy time after time, their huge silver scales reflecting the sunlight. They get up to about 200 pounds although 50 to 70 is probably the average when they're caught in the ocean, perhaps half that in Biscayne Bay. The juveniles mostly stay in the mangroves near shore in brackish water, and are often found in completely fresh water. Even the larger ones occasionally will move into fresh water and scare the hell out of some unsuspecting bass fisherman when 50 pounds of silvery dynamite explodes out of the water next to his boat.

In the early 1970's, back before another dredge-and-fill project wiped out most of the mangroves along the bay shore north of 135th Street in North Miami, it was often full of juvenile tarpon and snook. So was the north branch of nearby Arch Creek, and back then you could easily access it without walking through peoples' back yards. Many afternoons I'd grab a fly rod or ultra-light spinning rod and have an hour or two of fun, just a few blocks from my house.

Most of the tarpon were really tiny, maybe 12 to 18 inches long, and my spinning outfit was spooled with two pound test line. I fished with little 1/8 ounce bucktail jigs less than two inches in length. This fish was much bigger than the average and inhaled the little lure quite deep. I tried to unhook him gently but it was impossible. His gills were bleeding profusely and I didn't think he'd survive. It was time to test the theory that tarpon weren't good to eat!

Elena was barely two years old and she was really fascinated when I got home with the fish just before sunset. I filleted and skinned it and we had some for dinner. The flesh was soft and mushy and had a soapy taste. The cat got most of it. I never kept another tarpon. Years later I found out that in countries where it is commonly eaten they use lots of onions, hot peppers and other strong spices. Sauteeing in butter with a touch of black pepper just ain't the way to go!

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