Few fish can match a tarpon’s acrobatics, strength and stamina. With skills that have evolved over millions of years while surviving a range of drastic climate changes, the mighty silver king can stem the strongest tides, elude fearless predators and overtake hapless prey with ease. However, widespread changes in their populations and movements signal significant issues throughout the coastal landscape of Florida and beyond.
With a focus on protecting essential and historical tarpon fisheries before it is too late, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (btt.org), and Florida Outdoor Experience (floridaoutdoorexperience.com) set out to Florida’s Nature Coast for an expedition tagging tarpon not only for our enjoyment, but for those generations to come. Our crew for this foray comprised a group with an array of backgrounds including Dr. Aaron Adams of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water, photographer extraordinaire Sean Murphy, creative genius Rob McAbee of BOTE, accomplished angler Heather Harkavy, Gray Drummond, Owner of Florida Outdoor Experience, and the radiant Captain Lacey Kelly who serves as Operations Manager at the FOE headquarters in Chiefland.
Coinciding with the region’s epic migration of spawning tarpon where fish eclipsing 150 pounds attract anglers from far and wide, we set out with the ultimate arsenal of shallow drafting inshore platforms to navigate the tongue-twisting waterways that make this region an inshore angler’s paradise. But we were not after the world-record class tarpon that were feeding on the famed Chassahowitzka flats where Captain Steve Kilpatrick guided angler James Holland to the first 200-pound-plus tarpon ever caught on fly. Rather, we were focused on catching, implanting acoustic tags, and releasing 20- to 50-pound tarpon, which are the future of the fishery, to help determine potential spawning site changes and how freshwater flow into area waters might influence coastal migrations.