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Tarpon Fishing - Tarpon History 5


Fitzgerald’s amazing catch won all kinds of loot in the brewery’s fishing contest, but in the local flyrodding community, it was sniffed at; ignored, because it had been made on leader heavier than “regu­lation.” Although that very likely was the first 100-pound tarpon ever landed on a cast fly, it is all but unknown today, except the people involved—and now, of course, readers of Florida Sportsman.

But Charlie Clowe’s first “official” catch did not remain in the public eye for very long, either. Actually, the allowing of heavy tippet was by no means universally popular. The flyfishing traditionalists grum­bled about the change for years, and many top anglers refused to go along with it, claiming that anyone who tied on a heavy tippet was no longer flyfishing.

But there were enough modernists around to keep the Met flyrod record for tarpon inching upward until, in 1958, it came to rest at 125 pounds—a plateau that was to resist king-of-the hill assaults for eight long years.

The triumphant angler was Jerry Coughlan of Essex Falls, New Jersey, who was a very prominent Met angler—so prominent that his 125-pound tarpon is still widely but, of course, erroneously, believed to be the first 100-pounder ever caught on a fly. Not only that, but many believe him to have been a dominant figure in the develop­ment of flyrod tarpon fishing.

Nothing could be further removed from the facts, which were these: That 125-pounder was the first tarpon Coughlan ever cast to with a fly—and the only one he ever caught on fly tackle.

Since Coughlan and Albright were truly a legendary team, the public misunder­standing is easily explained. Inflating the accomplishments of legendary figures is a trait of even ordinary citizens. Let fisher­men take over the inflating, and you had better watch out!

Coughlan and Albright received most of the angling publicity that came out of Florida in the decade of the 1950s, as they racked up a then-unbelievable string of giant tarpon (and Met trophies) with plug tackle, including the 1601/2-pounder al­ready mentioned. Freshwater fishermen in every nook and cranny of the nation were oohing and aahing over the monsters-on-bass-tackle exploits of Coughlan and Albright, which they were reading about not only in outdoor magazines but also in the Saturday Evening Post and oth­er general-interest publications.

Because of the times, Coughlan got far more national attention than any winners of the Met’s Master Angler trophies in la­ter years, most of whom far outpaced his early angling accomplishments, especially when it came to versatility.

But it was the idea of versatility that led to Coughlan’s 125-pounder on fly. He had the winning tarpon in the Met’s plug divi­sion safely tucked away that year (1958) and so, according to Albright, he got the idea of trying for a sweep of the three Met artificial-lure categories—fly, plug and spinning.

“Soon after he caught his big fish on plug,” Albright remembers, “we were fishing in the backcountry one day when Jerry told me he wanted to go after the winning fish on fly.

Pioneers of the tarpon flats, from left to right, Cecil Keith, Jimmy Albright and Ted Williams discuss tackle and tactics for tarpon over the 100-pound mark.

“I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘You’re kid­ding!’ I told him. ‘You’ve never cast a fly in your life!’ ”

” ‘You can show me,’ he insisted.”

So the guide showed him as much as could be expected in a single, extempo­raneous, on-the-water lesson.

“His luck was perfect,” Albright said. “In a little while we came on a big tarpon laying up in a mud inSandyKeyBasin. Jerry got the fly to him—he didn’t need a particularly long or artful cast because of the murky water—and before you know it, he was hooked up.”

The fight was anticlimactic for an angler of Coughlan’s experience.

Coughlan almost did complete his cov­eted sweep that year of the Met casting categories. In the end, the spinning divi­sion foiled him, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on Albright’s part. Again, the skip­per narrates:

“One trip we found a big fish—100 at least—in a white hole downwind of us. Jerry was using a spinning outfit and a Leaping Lena plug. I told him to throw the plug in front of the tarpon’s nose and just let it lie still. He executed the cast perfectly and the tarpon rose and sucked in the plug instantly.

“Jerry began striking to set the hook. I expected a long run, so I was already poling hard toward the fish. But he fooled me. He just stayed there, shaking his head and wondering what he had eaten. Be­fore you know it, we were right on top of the tarpon and he hadn’t noticed us yet.

“What the heck, I thought. I picked up the gaff and hit the fish in the shoulder on the right side. He took off and the gaff ripped a furrow the full length of his body before it came out at the tail end. We never did get that one.”

Although Coughlan never caught an­other tarpon on fly, his 125-pounder re­mained the Met record until Pete Siman of Islamorada broke it in 1965 with a fish weighing 144 pounds. Meanwhile, how­ever, wild things were going on in the chase for giant tarpon on fly outside the Met Tournament, which ended each year around the middle of April. Some of those adventures will be the subject of an article next month.

As to who should get credit for the first 100-pounder on fly, here’s one vote for Cliff Fitzgerald, Jr. Although his use of a 15-pound leader was considered an atro­cious breach of flyfishing form by tradi­tionalists of the period, it actually gave him no real advantage over 12-pound, in­asmuch as the light leader was tied direct­ly to the fly.

Flyrod records now are kept by the In­ternational Game Fish Association (IGFA), and 15-pound has long been a standard tippet category—the one, in fact, which lists the current flyfishing mark, about which we shall hear more next month.

Recently, the IGFA added a 20-pound category to the flyfishing records.

That rumbling you hear is the sound of many a departed purist turning over in his grave.

FS Classics

Related Articles:

  1. Cape Coral Tarpon Hunters Club Celebrates 40 years
  2. Satellite Beach Tarpon Fishing
  3. Golden Fly Tarpon Tourney Results
  4. Tarpon Away from the Pack
  5. Baby Tarpon on the Prowl

Read more: http://www.floridasportsman.com/2012/07/09/fs-classics-fly-fishing-for-tarpon/#ixzz22Pbn6EEz

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