Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Six Hours Later . . . Fly-Rodders Land Tarpon

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Six Hours Later . . . Fly-Rodders Land Tarpon

Article excerpt

The plan aboard the charterboat Black Hawk last Sunday was to

fly-fish for tarpon off St. Augustine in the morning, then get

back in time to catch the 1 p.m. Jaguars game.

Black Hawk skipper Whit Whitlock and friend Mike Wallis,

however, didn't count on a fish fight that would last the

equivalent of two NFL games. Six hours and three minutes, to be

exact, of standup fishing -- without the benefit of a fighting

chair or harness.

"We made it home for the second half of the SECOND game,"

Wallis said. "Now I know what those Jaguars feel like on


Wallis, who stands 6 feet 7 and weighs 240 pounds, was still

nursing blisters and bruises last week after his overtime bout

on a fly rod with a 100-pound-class tarpon. Not a huge tarpon,

but that rare fish with the bloodlines of an endurance champion

and a decidedly stubborn streak.

"Some of them are fish that absolutely don't give up," said

Wallis, who has boated a number of tarpon on both conventional

and fly tackle. "I think [IGFA tarpon record holder] Billy Pate

fought one for eight hours once.

"I've never had one on for more than an hour before. Blisters

are starting to show in places I didn't know I could get

blisters. He beat me up."

Wallis and Whitlock have been pioneers of sort in fly-fishing

for beach tarpon off St. Augustine. Unlike some other areas of

the state, where fly fishers sight-cast to tarpon in water

generally less than 10 feet deep, the waters that hold sizable

numbers of tarpon off Northeast Florida are deep -- 60 feet or

so. That calls for a different brand of fishing.

For years, the accepted method among conventional tackle

anglers has been chum fishing, luring tarpon in close by doling

out oily hors d'oeuvres to form a chum line. Into this slick,

fishermen float a dead croaker or trout -- yummy tarpon baits.

Wallis and Whitlock modified this approach by matching the

hatch, so to speak, for fly fishing. Wallis ties a 10inch fly

pattern called Miss Joan -- after a shrimpboat that used to

provide the Black Hawk with chum -- that floats and features a

tandem hook rig similar to a billfish fly. The fly isn't

retrieved, but allowed to bob among the bits of chum.

"It looks like a great big croaker," Whitlock said. "We're just

kind of developing it as we go along."

Three years ago, Wallis and Whitlock caught what's believed to

be the first beach tarpon on a fly in Northeast Florida. Since

then, they've boated two more in the 70-90 pound class and lost

a number of fish. Last Saturday, Wallis had eight tarpon hookups

on the Miss Joan fly but no fish to the boat. The pair returned

to the ocean Sunday, Wallis' birthday, intent on fishing only

half a day. …

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