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Tarpon exploit revisited

October 27, 2012
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

It's April 18, 1885, Fort Myers. You've just opened the local paper and see an article titled "Great Fishing Exploit."

Local Capt. John Smith, Finnish sailor, fishing guide and cook from Punta Rassa, had little idea that on the 25th day of March, 1885, he would guide his rich sporting client from New York City, one W.H. Wood, into angling history.

Wood explains, "We caught sight of the back fin of the tarpon lying within two feet of the bushes. I told my man to stop the skiff, and I cast my bait (mullet) to within five or six feet of the mouth of the tarpon."

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

"We paddled after him and he went leaping and racing until he had made six leaps and had run say half a mile when I found I was tiring him out as he could not then leap entirely out of the water.

"After getting him well tired I suggested gaffing him, but my man thought he might knock the skiff to pieces so we awaited the arrival of the sailboat."

(When the boat arrived Wood stepped onto it and reeled in the tarpon. Smith gaffed it and brought it aboard.)

"The feat was accomplished. A tarpon had been caught with 21-thread line on a five-foot bamboo rod and a large tarpon reel not at any time having out more than 250 feet of line."

The newspaper article gave the weight of the tarpon as 250 pounds, but in Wood's own description it was 93 pounds. Wood caught two that day and a total of five for that week. all on tackle he designed himself. He was also an architect designing cathedrals and libraries. Friendly with Tom Edison he would stay at his home in Fort Myers in 1886.

Wood died 12 years later at 46 from TB. Capt. Smith relocated to St. James City guiding and renting row boats for tarpon charters in Captiva and Boca Grande.

The unthinkable had been accomplished. A tarpon had finally been caught on rod and reel, not one but five in a week! Before that they had been caught by hooks attached to floating kegs or harpooned, but to catch one on a fishing rod was considered impossible.

If you love fishing, tarpon fishing, or big game fishing for any species local author Randy Wayne White's Ultimate Tarpon Book is a must read. Many are probably familiar, but if you're not by all means get a copy. This fascinating over 400-page account is chock full of wonderful stories and photos of the local history and the people that made it fishing for the silver king here in Southwest Florida.

Hemmingway's first tarpon in 1928, to pictures of Mina Edison's tarpon catches in proper long dresses. Zane Grey, Joe Brooks, Lee Wulf, Teddy Roosevelt, Billy Pate, and a host of angling greats are all featured in this super account of early tarpon fishing. Descriptions and pictures of the floating hotels anchored in Boca and Captiva catering to tarpon anglers worldwide with their fleets of rowboats and guides. Pictures of grand hotels like the Shultz and Hotel Boca on the shores of Boca Grande.

Amazing tales of women anglers like Mrs. CBM Hawley of the Useppa Island Izaak Walton Club pictured with her 155-pounder in 1914 and many other women that helped pioneer the sport of tarpon fishing. A wonderful book with tons of early photographs!

Well, the Cape thankfully dodged a weather bullet and my rugged but battered old lanai cage is breathing a squeaky sigh of relief. As soon as the winds die and the water clears our hot fall fishing will return to normal. If you consider really good redfish, snook, tarpon, mackerel, bonito, king, pompano, grouper, trout and shark fishing normal, then you're in the right place. Let's go fishing. November will be hot!

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or, or



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