Jackie’s Stories — “They’re going to quit sending me rods.”

Jack Campbell
One morning about eight years or so ago in the month of September, I woke to slick-calm conditions. I did not have a fishing client that day and planned to do some work around the ranch. And as is the case with most guides and true fishermen – the water was calling my name.

So I scrubbed the work detail and hooked on to my skiff which I keep ready to go. I had been on some tarpon off and on in the past week. I packed a lunch, some ice and bottled water, and hit the road. On the way to Port O'Connor I wondered if the onshore wind would be blowing when I got there. It was still calm as I launched my skiff.

As the sun crept over the horizon I began a methodical search of the areas I felt were potentially productive. By 8AM I was in the big pond without a trace of a poon. The next few hours were long and uneventful except for a tripletail I happened upon on and enticed to bite a small crab fly. I saw a few boats in the distance but none close enough to identify. Then about 11AM I saw that familiar silver flash way in the distance. I felt an immediate rush of adrenaline while a few moments earlier I was trying to stay awake.

As I closed to within a quarter mile I could see lazy rollers here, there and yonder. I slowly idled in, upwind with a light breeze blowing. I killed the engine and drifted right into one of the most amazing sights I had ever witnessed.
There was maybe an acre or so of tarpon, so thick you could almost walk on them. Some were cruising right on the surface but the majority were down 8- to 10 feet, schooled up tight as sardines in a can. They were all just lazily swimming around and under my skiff. Happy fish for sure.

Now I have seen tarpon expel air but what these fish were doing takes it to another level. It was like you took a bucketful of air under the water and turned it up, letting all the air out at once. The air would come busting to the surface with a big "bloosh." All this happening at the same time was one of the most amazing sights ever.

Now as I sit here writing this, calm and collected, I tell you there was nothing calm about the situation for several hours. As I was trying to wrap my mind around all of it, instinct had taken over. I ripped a 12-weight from under the gunnel and shook out some line. I made a 50 foot cast and on the third strip–Wham–silver in the air. Two jumps later she came unbuttoned.

As the fly hit the water I stripped twice more and, fish-on again. Folks, it was like that for the next three to four hours. I tell you it was exhausting.

There was some downtime as I re-rigged after leadering a fish or breaking one off. I broke one rod and one fly line. I'm not sure how many fish I jumped but I leadered three. Most were 100 pound-class.

A squall built up in the east and it started getting rough. I had a fish on and finally leadered it. I headed in and by then it was very rough. On the way I thought – What a Day!

I was happy and tired, and about out of equipment. The end of a good fishing trip? NOT HARDLY!

Pulling into Clark's I saw a couple of buddies standing by their trailered boats. They motioned me over and I told them of my experience. They'd had uneventful trips and I could sense an air of disbelief at my story.

As we talked the squall moved on north and it grew calm again. Kevin said, "Let's go back."

And, with only a little persuading, here we go!

I took the remaining intact rod out of my skiff and loaded up in his. Off we went.

With a little dead reckoning and sonar we went right back to the spot and they were still there, doing the same thing. No longer in disbelief Kevin was in full-blown hyperventilation. His breathing sounded like a dog on a hot summer day with some wheezing thrown in.

We both shook out rods. I cast from the bow one way and he cast the other from the stern. A few strips later–Wham–we had tarpon in the air on either side of the boat. How sweet is that?

Well, before I could get my fish on the reel, a half hitch got around my hand and broke my fly line.

We leadered Kevin's and he picked up the last rigged rod and started peeling out line. The line got a little tangled on something in the boat and Kevin was trying to clear it. His fly was dangling in the water.

I told him several times that it wasn't a good idea for his fly to be in the water–situation being what it was. But he acted as though he could not hear me. It might have been him breathing too loud.

Just as he got it untangled his rod lurched violently downward into the water and a few seconds later a tarpon exploded on the other side of the boat.

Now he is hooked up and the line is under the boat. He tries to walk the rod around the bow to get straight with the fish. He's doing a good job and just as he reaches the bow the fish jumps again and the added pressure hangs the rod on the tip of the trolling motor on the bow. The rod breaks and the fish gets off.

Kevin sits down on the bow, head hung low, quiet and thinking. Suddenly he raises his head and says, "They're going to quit sending me rods."

At that he drops his head again, maybe two seconds, and then raises it suddenly and exclaims – "It was worth it man!"

It was over as quickly as it started. We are left with only the memories engrained in our minds of a very special experience shared with a good friend.

Anytime the opportunity presents; take someone fishing – a kid, a friend, a family member. The memories made could be priceless.

Seadrift native and skiff guide; Jack Campbell runs fly and light-tackle charters in the Port O'Connor-Seadrift bays and nearshore Gulf of Mexico. Jackie- as friends call him- has ranched cattle all his life in Calhoun County, worked as a commercial fisherman, loves wingshooting and has an intense passion for fishing and coastal resources. Visit his website www.skinnywaterflyfishing.com or call 361-920-4111.