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Vol. 17 No. 40 - July 19, 2017

reel time

Fishing with Captain Rick Grassett

Reel time


The author watches as his tarpon catapults into the air.


Captain Rick Grassett was the first to spot the black shapes cruising towards the boat. The sky was clear and the winds light, just the kind of day fly anglers pray for. We were anchored on the shallow edge of a Gulf side sandbar, and it was my turn on the bow. Moments later, I spotted the tarpon and watched as they closed on the boat. When they were in range, I made two false casts and placed my fly 10 feet in front of the lead fish.

I waited for the first fish to pass before beginning my retrieve. The second fish didn’t respond, but the third fish started tracking the fly. Two strips later it opened its mouth, and the fly disappeared. As the line came tight, I set the hook with two sharp jabs, letting go as the fish surged. Concentrating on the fly line at my feet, I watched as it sail into the guides, making sure it didn’t tangle on anything. The tarpon immediately came out of the water in a scale rattling jump and took off into deeper water. The rest of my fly line and 100 feet of backing quickly melted from the reel. I reached down and released the anchor as Grassett started the boat. By the time we got forward momentum, another 200 feet of backing had vanished into the Gulf, and the tarpon had made two grey-hounding leaps in the distance.

Reeling furiously, I started to retrieve the backing, keeping just enough pressure on the line to prevent it from going slack. When we had regained the backing and most of the fly line, Grassett killed the engine and got his camera ready. When he gave me the signal, I leaned on the tarpon, putting as much pressure as I dared on the line and rod. The 90-pound fish made a beautiful gyrating leap just as we had planned. Grassett took a burst of photos and the fish took off on another long run.

We repeated the scenario three more times, allowing Grassett to capture its last slow leap. We were right next to the fish, but I couldn’t get it near the boat. Every time I attempted to turn the fish, it made another short run. Not wanting to stress the fish, I tightened the drag, held onto the spool and on the next surge the line parted, just as I had hoped.

Returning to the anchor float, we set up on the edge of the sandbar again. Minutes later, wave after wave of fish tracked towards us. It was Grassett’s turn, and after a number of shots and refusals, a big fish tracked and attacked his fly. He set the hook, and as the fish bolted, line flew into the air, tangling around his hand. The tarpon made a beautiful jump, breaking off when the line came tight again. He had done everything right, but as we have learned “if something can go wrong it will.” The balance of the day we took turns throwing at singles and groups of fish. Although we both had lots of excellent shots, we weren’t able to hook up again.

July is the time of the year that fly anglers relish. It’s a time when big spawning schools of tarpon break up. It’s also a time when fishing the beaches with live bait is winding down. The single tarpon and groups of two to four that fly anglers target in shallow water are very temperamental and tend to refuse live bait and artificial lures, but will take properly presented flies.

When tarpon make a long run it’s common practice to start the engine and get as close to the fish as possible. That’s the only way to be able to apply the pressure necessary to land them. Getting close to them before applying pressure will also result in a jump about 50 percent of the time. Anglers wanting to try their hand at fly fishing for tarpon are encouraged to hire a guide. It’s a technical game and the experience a guide brings is invaluable.

Captain Rick Grassett has been fly fishing tarpon for decades and is considered one of the best guides on the west coast. He can be reached at 941-350-9790, or visit his web site at

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