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Tarpon Fishing - Tarpon History 3


The concept and basic rules of competi­tive saltwater casting categories—fly, plug and spinning—were developed by the Rod and Reel Club of Miami Beach, and later passed along to the general angling public by being incorporated into the Metropolitan Miami (now South Florida) Fishing Tournament.

The Rod and Reel Club was founded in 1928, and its members did a great deal of saltwater flyfishing before World War II: However, the club record for tarpon in the prewar period was less than 20 pounds. Less than that, too, were the very earliest flyrod catches mentioned in angling liter­ature: “tarpum up to 10 pounds,” caught in the Indian River in the 1880s by James Henshall, author of the classic Book of the Black Bass. (Henshall caught his baby tar­pon on a 12-foot, 12-ounce flyrod. If that seems like too-heavy artillery, remember that Henshall must have been a timorous angler. He once described the largemouth bass as “inch-for-inch and pound-for-pound the gamest fish that swims.”)

After the war, Rod and Reel clubbers began assailing South Florida waters anew with light tackle, and the tarpon became a primary target, but mostly with plug tackle. Capt. Jimmie Albright, most fa­mous of all the pioneering light-tackle guides in the Keys, recalls that many of his clients who belonged to the Rod and Reel Club, or who went after trophies in the Met Tournament, did try for big tar­pon with flyrods, but kept running smack against a light-tippet wall.

“Fifty pounds seemed to be about the dividing point,” Albright says. “Lots of 30- and 40-pounders were landed, and some 50s. When the fish got much bigger than that, the fight always lasted long enough to somehow fray through the light tippet, even if the fish was hooked in a good spot.”

If hooked in a “bad” spot—where the leader could come in contact with the tarpon’s raspy jaws—a breakoff usually re­sulted almost instantaneously.

“When they started allowing heavy tip­pets, the dam broke,” Albright said, “and the records started piling up pretty fast. Ted Williams got three of them, for in­stance, in one day.”

Williams, the Hall-of-Fame baseball star who is no less celebrated for his angling exploits, was near the peak of his dia­mond career at the time but, according to Albright, he didn’t let spring training stand in the way of his eagerness to chase after a 100-pound tarpon with a flyrod.

“Ted came down in February with Juli­an Crandall, who was the president of the Ashaway Line company. Spring training had started, but he was holding out that year, as I recall. Anyway, we went out and in one day Ted landed three tarpon that weighed 76, 77 and 78 pounds. They were caught in that order, too. Each one was a new Met record, but Ted was a little disappointed that he couldn’t get a hun­dred-pounder.”

Don’t feel sorry for Williams. He has since topped that standard many times.

Just a week or two after Williams’ endeavors, Albright booked a trip with Char­lie Clowe and Dave DeTar, who belonged to the Rod and Reel Club and were among those hoping to be first to break the century mark. Both were top-rank anglers and prolific point-getters in club competition.

At the time, Albright was one of only a few guides who worked very far into the Florida Bay backcountry out of the Upper Keys. The postwar boating boom was just beginning; neither outboard motors nor skiffs were well suited to running 25 miles or more across often-bumpy water to spots—such as Nine-Mile Bank and Sandy Key—that are easily reached by many (too many) boats today. But Albright had no problem. He made the trip in a 30-foot Prowler cabin cruiser, towing a pair of 15-foot skiffs.

“We could make it to Man O’ War in about 45 minutes, and to Nine-Mile, of course, in a little less. When we got there, we’d get upwind and drift along the out­side of the bank until we spotted fish. Then we’d throw the hook, get into the skiffs and push down into casting range. We didn’t use the outboards very much, Sometimes they didn’t get cranked till it was time to go back to the cruiser.”

The outboards were 7 1/2 horsepower Mercurys. “Mercury gave me four motors a year back then,” Albright remembers. “Two for each skiff. If one motor broke down, it wasn’t easy to get it fixed back then, so that’s why Mercury provided the two spares.”

Another guide was needed, of course, for the second skiff. On this trip, as on a great many others, Albright’s associate was Capt. Cecil Keith of Islamorada. Upon [spotting fish off Man O' War Key, Keith began pushing angler Clowe—who no doubt was wearing Coppertone suntan lotion, since he had founded the company—while Albright fished DeTar.

Not long thereafter, Clowe cast to, and hooked, a big tarpon.

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PTTS - Professional Tarpon Tournament Series