Tuesday 29 September 2015

Grand Cayman Tarpon

My first go at snorkelling on my own on Grand Cayman was the first time I saw a tarpon. I was standing on the beach, about to put my mask on, when I saw two long fishy shapes show in a swell before the wave broke.

They looked rather shark-like to me, but I hopped in the water anyway, feeling wary. After swimming around for a while, I saw them again, looming towards me, and decided it was time to exit the water. I hadn't seen anything like it. They were big fish (the adults will often grow to over two metres long.)

Afterwards, I was informed that they were probably tarpon.

I was only visiting the Cayman Islands at the time, and ended up coming back about a year later after landing a job there.

Some of my favourite memories from my time on Grand Cayman are of fishing for young tarpon in the mangrove canals (man-made canals and roads through mangrove swamps.)

I assume the adult tarpon must come inland into these areas to spawn, and the young slowly move out to the sea as they mature, although Wikipedia says otherwise: "Tarpons breed offshore in warm, isolated areas," so I'm not really sure whether it's something specific to Cayman or there's an in-between inland stage that's not very well documented. Wikipedia also states, "Since tarpons are not commercially valuable as a food fish, very little has been documented concerning their geographical distribution and migrations."

I was informed of a pool where the young tarpon should be found, and started fishing there with a 10 cm. paddle-tail lure. I hadn't used anything similar before, and was impressed with the realistic action of the lure, and the success I had with it.

The youngest tarpon were quite easy to land, but once they started getting bigger - around the 40 cm. mark - they were very strong and would leap high in the air and consistently throw the lure.

I found that I had more success just winding them in as fast as possible when they got to this size - you couldn't play them, as they'd always jump and seldom stay on the hook.

I used that one lure for a long time. It lost the tail quite early on, and eventually was just a weighted hook with no 'body', which seemed to work even better than the proper lure did.

As they tarpon grew, they slowly moved out from the pool to the sea. I was fishing the pool a few times without hooking anything before I realised they must be on the move. It was then a matter of hunting around 'downstream' until I started getting hits on the lure again.

A Facebook 'memory' (where you're shown some old post from the past by Facebook and offered to share it again) reminded me of my time fishing for tarpon on Grand Cayman. It was from seven years ago to the day. I tried to locate the spot on Google Earth, but it appears a highway now runs through my old fishing pool.