Part of targeting new species, on new waters is that by default - it’s going to be an adventure, due to the simple fact that you have never done this before. You add in the cloak of darkness and that adventure only becomes more amped... and eerie.
This was the case with my night fishing trip for Tarpon with Capt. Ross Gallagher aka @theintrepidangler. He’s been targeting these dinosaurs for the past 5 years, and he's got them pretty dialed in...
Ross is a prime example of someone who has designed his life. Ironically, the process of lifestyle design is fluid, initially driven by compulsion and followed by a commitment to make it happen, and constantly adapting along the way. He was born in Iowa, a born angler. A two week visit to Florida at the age of 20 changed his life... 9 days after getting back to Iowa, he packed up and head down to become a resident of Southwest Florida. Fishing is his life. As a guide he’d bounce between Florida and Alaska chasing the fish and season from Redfish to Halibut respectively.
Today, he’s got a stable gig as Director of Retail Sales for Hogy Lures, the stability allows him the luxury that his former “grinding" guide self didn’t have - the luxury of being selective, to cherry pick his trips and clients, to fish with who, and how, and when he wants to. He takes out-of-towners Tarpon hunting at night, by boat or kayak. That's his thing.
Me and Ross crossed paths most likely through kayak fishing, I say "most likely" because we’re both social media guys (content creators), who both enjoy that connection of fishing from tiny plastic boats. That super niche interest tends to draw people into the same, small circle.
Through a random Facebook post about a two week solo road trip through south Florida, there I was on a Sunday night in July, on a boat, in a super secret spot, fishing for Tarpon with Capt. Ross.
“That’s a Tarpon.” He’d turn his head, mine quickly would follow and I’d see the water boil. He’d turn his head again, drawn by another sound, “There’s another one.” It made me giddy and I giggled as manly as I could. This was my first Tarpon trip. You’d see a little flash here, a pop there - the Tarpon were filter feeding on tiny glass minnows.
Using live bait is big in Florida, but we were throwing Hogy Lures. You have more control with lures: switching colors, varying retrieves, fishing different parts of the water column - trying to find how they want it and where they would take it. I ended up picking up a Snook on the bottom, crazy that an upper 30 inch Snook was considered a “by catch” that night. Looks like a Grouper tried to nab my Snook on the way up too… there were monsters down there.
I managed to jump one Tarpon and that initial take scared the shit out of me. That’s the beauty of fishing with lures vs. live bait, you get into such a rhythm of casting and working it that that BAM can catch you completely off guard. Ross managed a couple back-to-back thumps but no takers. The bite had slowed down.
It’s around midnight and we’re headed back to the ramp to pick up Jay Clark, Ross's good friend and fellow guide. We had some time to kill as we waited for the tide and current to get right. Jay is another non-Floridian, drawn all the way from Queens, NY by the same love of fishing. Like Ross, he came to visit, went back home, quit is corporate software sales gig and got down to Florida as soon as he could.
So here we are - a Texan, a New Yorker and an Iowan on a boat in southern Florida hunting Tarpon in the dark, just 3 guys outdoors - casting the night away.
Then it happened, a Tarpon takes a white paddle tail that Ross was working near the surface. He sets the hook and asks me if I’m ready. He hands me the rod and it’s on.
Jay and Ross take turns coaching me. Ross grabs his camera and spotlight and starts taking some action photos. After a few jumps, these big Tarpon dig and then they come up and then they dig and come up and repeat... and all you can do is keep it tight.
When the Tarpon is ready, Jay reached down to go hand-to-hand combat with it. As he’s landing it, I’ve suddenly become a spectator, half because I was wore out and part because I was in awe. Ross had to remind me to get back up in there. He popped a couple more photos of Jay and I, and then we set him free.
I’m still relatively new to this outdoor lifestyle and career, I’m just a little over a year being self-employed. I have ten years of history behind a desk, so I sometimes I still geek out and think, how did I end up here, in this random magic moment.
Both these guys have been living this outdoor grind for years and I imagine that by now - this is their normal. But their true enthusiasm showed as they coached and watched me battle my first tarpon - it’s still freaking cool to them, albeit it’s their normal. They were genuinely excited for me, as I am sure they are for all their guests.
When you experience a new adventure, when you knock a fish off you’re bucket list - you never forget that moment and the people you were with. In this case, these guys gave me this moment, they made it, they created it and they shared it with me. I’ll always remember Ross and Jay for that.
We exchanged high fives and I quickly found a place to sit silently for a bit while they fished on. I appreciated it, I savored it, and mused that THIS is what it’s all about. #AdventureAhead #LIVELIVENOW