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The Story of the Albino Tarpon

The odds were in our favor on Friday May 24, 2013 in the Boca Grande Pass to say the least. The Pass was loaded with well over sixty boats around 3pm in anticipation of the phenomenal tarpon bite that routinely occurs during the hill tide.  As the tide began to turn, all sorts of marine life began to trickle into the Pass in the hopes of getting a free ride into the gulf, including a tarpon’s favorite meal, crabs! We brought our dip nets and headed up current and began to scoop up these bite size crustaceans along with other boats right beside us. Jennifer Dubbaneh drove the boat while Nick Weigner and Baily Beckham scooped them up. My duty was to take the crabs and transfer them to the livewell but I began to seriously contemplate if the pinchers and my fingertips were magnets.

We lost track of time during the process of getting bait because the crabs were passing on all sides of the boat and everyone was kept occupied. It was not until we saw some of the boats nearby head back to the Pass that we realized the key reason we were there: to send a few tarpon aerial.

We rigged up our lines as Jennifer put us in position to do our first drift. Still elated from our bait catching experience, the three of us sent our lively bait back into the Pass with some additional hardware while the captain kept us clear from other boats. After no hits during our first few drifts, and seeing a few boats around us hook up ten feet away, those doubting thoughts became louder and louder in the back of a fisherman’s mind when he is not catching fish. “Maybe my hook is too big.” “ Is my bait the right size.” “Do the fish see my leader?” “Why did I forget my Fluorocarbon at home?” “Is my bait at the right depth” “Should I downsize my tackle?” “Is there a banana on the boat?”

A violent tap somewhere near the bottom of the Pass is all that it took to awaken me from this trance. As soon as I came tight my line went limp and a six-foot tarpon did a complete front flip five feet in the air adjacent to the stern of the boat. I cranked the reel as fast as possible to regain line and was pleased once I found out I was still connected to the fish. We all did the tarpon shuffle and cleared the deck and remaining lines in the water in the hopes of getting on top of the fish to prevent it from tangling with the surrounding boats.

This particular fish enjoyed staying down and deep for the first fifteen minutes of the fight. It was not until it began to come to the surface and gulp some air before heading to the bottom that we began to question why this tarpon did not look normal. The coloration on its head was unique, and its fins, including its tail stuck out very well in the green water of the Pass. We all took turns passing the rod and fighting the fish. After about twenty minutes, the determination of the tarpon to hug the bottom was diminished.

Like many tarpon after a tough battle, it began to hover a few inches below the surface and try its final attempt at getting away by shaking its head in order to fray the leader or by wiggling the hook free. During this time, we could clearly see this tarpon was a rare catch. The top portion of its head and beginning portion of its neck were gold. All of the fins on its body also had this gold tint to it, including its dorsal fin, pelvic fins, pectoral fins, anal fins, and caudal (tail) fin.  The rest of the tarpon had the normal green back and sliver sides. This tarpon was both silver and gold!

A few boats had seen our commotion and decided to see for themselves. A few captains came up to us and told us this tarpon had been seen in the Pass over the past few weeks and a lot of people have been trying to catch it.  The tarpon continued to stay just out of reach each time we tried to get our hands on it. We could all tell the fish was putting its last bit of exertion and energy into the fight.

Since we had taken pictures, video, and all had a chance to tussle with the unique and unusual fish of the Pass, we did not want to compromise its life by fighting it to death or risk having a shark close in for an easy meal. Therefore, I tightened the drag on the reel and decided we were either going to land it or break him off as soon as possible. The 40lb monofilament mainline and 80lb leader began to stretch with the added strain on the line and something had to give. Sure enough, the 4/0 J hook simply pulled free from its mouth and the tarpon kicked right back to the bottom.

We were all excited since this was not only the first tarpon Nick, Jennifer, and Baily had all fought, but also the odds of hooking that exact tarpon in the midst of the thousands of normal colored tarpon that were present in the Pass at that given moment was extraordinary.  Soon after, we all decided to pack our gear and head back to the boat ramp and call it a day. Boca Grande Pass is truly a unique place to fish not only for the silver king, but also the silver and gold king.

 Written by: Barry Baroudi