It all began with the film ”Tapâm, a flyfishing journey” (2011) where Daniel Göz and Jan Bach Kristensen hook, fight and land one big tarpon after the other – from float tubes at an undisclosed location somewhere in Central America’s jungle.
The film created a lot of buzz amongst fly fishermen and received much well deserved recognition. What really got me excited – fly fishing for tarpon is at the top of my list – was this film’s number of big fish.
You didn’t need to know much about tarpon fishing or the making of fishing films to realize how insane their fishing must have been to shoot such a footage. Man, would I like to fish there!
The film was shot on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where tarpon are found but the coastline is about 300 kilometres with countless rivers. A silver needle in a huge green haystack.
”There are still places to be found…”, says Jan Bach Kristensen in the film. That was basically the overall message of Tapâm.
Our first day of fishing in Nicaragua must have been less than 20 minutes when a tarpon sucked in my friend’s baitfish fly. Instantly it jumped out of the river and, as far as I could see, the fly lost its hold in the bony mouth but to be sure Niklaus stripped as fast as he could trying to get tight, hoping that he was still connected to the fish.
He wasn’t but he did get tight seconds later as a smaller tarpon now took the fly after two or three strips. The 4/0 hook didn’t find a good hold in that one either. A blessing in disguise as it was only a few more casts before he hooked a much bigger tarpon.
This time he had time to set the hook before some hundreds pounds of silver caught the soft morning light as if rocketed out of the river with the lush green jungle in the background. Yes, we had found it…
As the sun sets over the jungle our first day of fishing is coming to an end. The five of us – in two boats – have jumped ten big “jungle poons”. A few were fought to the side of the boat with the leader in the guides but not one of them got to the point where we could “grab its face”. Tomorrow…
A few hours into our second day Jacob hooks a big fish. He has fly fished for GT, king salmon and many other strong species but never for big tarpon.
Our guide estimates this one at around 150 lbs, a nice fish around here but not in any way unusual. When Jacob sees six feet of fish leaving the water in the first of several spectacular jumps his jaw drops to his chest.
Later at lunch, over a rum and Coke, he recalls with a grin: “Well, it was just like…you know…there just kept coming fish out of the water!” It probably took more than one drink to get the nerves settled as this fish turned out to be evil.
It took almost an hour of serious battle before Jacob had the tarpon boat side and after that struggle we were seriously worried that every big jungle poon we would encounter would be this strong. They luckily aren’t – this was apparently a particular “evil” fish.
When I’m back in the jungle two months later my good friend the Carpenter lands a monster of a fish, estimated by his guide to be very close to 200 lbs! This one gave in after 20 minutes and a broken rod.
After two trips earlier this year and a total of twelve long days of fishing in the jungle there are way more stories to tell than there is room for on these pages. My second trip starts exactly as the first; right in the middle of a crazy feeding frenzy.
After only an hour of fishing – a little before seven in the morning – I try to send a text to lodge owner Jeroen when I find that I suddenly have a signal on my mobile: ”Fished one hour, six jumped, one (apps. 100 lbs) landed, one guy playing fish right fucking now”.
Not the nicest language, I know and I’m sorry, but the adrenalin was pumping pretty good at the time! I had landed the 100-pounder and my boat partner Peter Christensen had it all on film. We were now heading towards the other boat to shoot the battle between Jan and a much bigger fish.
You could easily get the impression that we were into big fish from dawn to dusk six days in a row. We weren’t. From what I understood from the guides we actually encountered pretty tough fishing during our first trip.
The winter had seen way more rain than usual and the water temperature was lower than normal for this time of the year. The whole season seemed to be delayed. Still, it wasn’t harder than all five of us were very keen to go back – and I was very happy that I could revisit seven weeks later.
Though we actually hooked a good number of fish on the first trip we only found them in a few different spots. In early February I heard from a German group that the fishing had changed for the better as tarpon were now showing in many different spots in the huge area that we fish.
I would witness that at first hand when I returned in early March. I know many anglers out there have way more tarpon experience than me. Still, I have fished for tarpon eight or nine times in Belize, several times in Cuba and Florida and once in Costa Rica.
Without a shadow of doubt I have never seen as many big tarpon during six days of fishing. On the other hand, there were times when it was extremely difficult to get them to eat a fly – which I will admit I have experienced elsewhere too. Saying that, they were surely harder to fool than the average poon in Belize or Cuba.
Sometimes we found lots of rolling fish in clear water lagoons. We went through entirely boxes of flies and fished high, deep, fast and slow. The fish just didn’t care. Understandable, when you can almost tell from the way they are rolling that they are coming straight off the bottom and just waving their tail before a return for the depths.
What I couldn’t understand was when we could find them making big swirls on the surface, surely eating something, and we still couldn’t get a bite. On my last day I finally got a big fish to eat a shrimp pattern under such conditions. Maybe it was pure luck, maybe my reasoning held true; that they weren’t chasing fish but were instead eating shrimps as nothing jumped out of the water when they swirled.
At other times they were completely turned on. One evening the Carpenter and Jan came back to the lodge with big smiles on their faces. They had spent the afternoon in a big clear river where they had found lots of tarpon of all sizes – and a lot fish fry. Stripping their baitfish flies with the fastest two-hand retrieve they could muster the tarpon which were following, noses only inches from the flies, while pushing a wave in front of them.
Not that they were too easy to fool on this occasion but not exactly impossible either. During a leg shaking, knee rattling hour and a half they had one follower after the other, jumped five poons and landed two up to around 120 lbs…one of the fish actually took the fly after Jan had the one or two feet of his leader in the rod’s guides!
There is still a lot to learn about this fishery. So far the conclusion must be that these fish have an exceptionally well-filled pantry. I can’t find a better explanation that they get so much bigger – but sometimes also harder to fool – than anywhere else I know.
Luckily – when the tide is pushing fresh schools of baitfish up river and start a tarpon feeding frenzy without its equal – they can also be easier to tempt than anywhere else. All in all, a deal that makes me yearn to return…
Words by Thomas Søbirk
Photos by Thomas Søbirk, Thomas Kristensen and tapamthelodge.com
Contents NEW ZEALANDSOUTH ISLANDFEBRUARY 2012WEST OTAGO NEW ZEALAND New Zealand’s South Island is practically uninhabited; today, in an overpopulated
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