My son, Daniel, was home for a few days last week and asked me to take him fishing. He wanted to catch something big. We left home at 5:00 a.m. on Friday morning, hoping to find some tarpon feeding on the menhaden schools that are now holding along Cocoa Beach. A little after 6:00 a.m., two miles south of the Cocoa Pier, we found some tarpon chasing the menhaden. It wasn’t long before we had one hooked up, and Daniel had the opportunity to fight his big fish. This one measured just under six feet long and measured 38 inches in girth. According to the formula used to estimate tarpon weight, the fish was between 130 and 140 pounds. That’s a big fish!
To me the tarpon is one of the most beautiful fish in the ocean, with its silver sides, wide tail, green back, distinct jaw structure, large eyes, and iridescent scales. It is a fascinating fish to pursue: for decades fishermen have been drawn to Florida by their desire to catch one of these huge fish. You can find lots of old pictures of fishermen with huge tarpon hung up at the dock for a photograph. It was an impressive thing to show to friends back home, but killing all those tarpon was poor stewardship of a valuable resource. Thankfully, times and attitudes have changed. Since the food value of tarpon is poor, most fishermen choose to revive and release them.
Tarpon are powerful fish. The reason I am holding on to the tarpon’s jaw in the first picture is that it is hard to fight a fish that big and powerful and also land it alone. When the fish was tired, I had Daniel lead it close to the boat so I could grab its jaw. Tarpon don’t have sharp teeth, but gloves are advised, since the inside of the mouth is like sandpaper. Keeping the fish in the water and moving the boat ahead slowly allows oxygen to flow over its gills and revives the fish before it is released.
Tarpon are not fast-growing fish. Scientists who have studied these things tell us a 130 to 140 pound tarpon is in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 years old. For many years, that tarpon has traveled north in the spring from somewhere south of the Florida Keys, following the schools of menhaden. It may have traveled as far north as the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the summer, then migrated south past Cape Canaveral again in October or November as the water cooled. It may have hung around the Cocoa Beach area in previous summers to feed on the menhaden that seem to like this area. Very likely it has been caught and released several times in its life, and will be caught and released a few more times.
Being on the ocean early in the morning on a calm day, as the sun begins to rise and seeing those vast schools of menhaden being chased by pelicans and tarpon reminds me of the dawn of creation, when God “created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kind…” (Genesis 1:21). It’s just my opinion, but when it comes to fish, the tarpon is one of God’s most majestic creations!