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Who is credited with catching the first tarpon?

October 4, 2019
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

With high water temperatures, many migratory tarpon are wondering whether to stay on till Thanksgiving or head south before getting caught in a sudden fall chill.

Interesting, that credit for the first tarpon caught on rod and reel was reported by W.H. Wood in March of 1885, caught in Tarpon Bay, Florida, and during the remainder of that week, four more fish were boated from the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. This report was submitted by Wood and published in the April 1885 issue of Forest and Stream Magazine.

John Smith of near Punta Rassa guided and provided letters verifying the event.

More interesting is this first one caught claim was disputed by Mr. S.C. Clark in May 1885, who wrote in the same magazine, "A tarpon was killed in the Indian River, East Florida, with rod and reel by S.H. Jones of Philadelphia, some years ago, I think about 1878." "The contest lasted more than three hours and was carried on from a boat which was towed some distance by the fish.

"I heard of this affair from the boatman that waited on Mr. Jones who himself gave an account of the capture to an angling friend of mine; so I have no doubt as to the correctness of the story."

Sounds very possible and the controversy will go on as concrete proof wasn't presented to show the catch actually happened.

Another contender claim for the first tarpon on rod and reel came from A.W. Dimock, a wealthy business and sportsman. While trolling for striped bass in the Homosassa River, Florida, with a guide in 1882, he hooked and fought a tarpon to the boat but due to a broken gaff, lost the fish and recognition.

In the end and for now, Mr. Wood retains the title.

Things haven't really changed much in tarpon fishing since Thomas Edison and his family routinely fished for river tarpon while living in Fort Myers.

In a letter to her mother, Mina Edison wrote: "Darling Mother - The catfish are a terrible nuisance when fishing for tarpon and eat the bait almost as soon as it's out."

Same as it is today, except we now know that catfish chunks are one of our river tarpon's favorite snacks.

These quotes were borrowed from the "Ultimate Tarpon Book" by local writer Randy White, whose book is a must read for anyone interested in the early tarpon pioneers from presidents, sports heroes, scientists, outdoor adventures and anglers all having the same goal -- to come to this very location to catch that uncatchable fish on rod and reel, the tarpon.

October is the prime redfish month of the whole year in these parts and they are biting. When tides are low, look for holes and channels, especially near oyster bars. Be there on an early morning rising tide, get quiet and scan the surface for schooling fish pushing water as they move across the flat or a group of tails waving at you glistening in the morning sun.

Throw your lures to the edges of these schools so it doesn't break up the school and don't crowd others that found fish.

Fish top-waters early on low tides out in front of the mangroves then follow the reds in with the tide till they are fully under the trees eating all the goodies that present themselves along the shoreline.

At this point the experienced skip caster that can shoot a soft plastic bait inches off the surface way back and under the sticks will reach the fish. The edge angler without these skills will go home with an empty livewell.

Bait anglers will try and get their live, dead shrimp, pinfish, ladyfish/mullet chunks as far under the sticks as possible and wait for a sharp nosed red to pick up the scent.

Never forget to keep your rod tip in the water when fighting snook and reds under the mangroves.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.



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