This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
In this connection it may be apropos to relate an incident which occurred below Naples last winter, and which will illustrate what the Tarpon will do when he is hungry, and at the same time shows his jumping proclivities. When the facts first reached my ears I scarcely credited them. Afterward they were substantiated by Doctor Green, a reputable gentleman and an excellent physician. Naples is situated on a narrow strip of land, washed on the west by the open gulf, and on the east by an inside passage which commences at the head of Gordon's River and widens into the Bay of Naples. This strip, which varies in width from one to two or three miles, extends twelve or fourteen miles, being broken at several points by inlets from the gulf. The Tarpon frequents the inside passage, which, being well protected from the storms and heavy winds of the gulf, always affords safe and accessible fishing-grounds. About eight miles down, last winter, on the mainland, there was an alligator-hunters' camp whose presiding genius was "Uncle" Charlie Cross. "Uncle" Charlie, it seems, was advanced in years, and looked after camp supplies, etc., rather than being engaged in the arduous and sometimes dangerous occupation of "'gatorin'." He was in the habit of bringing his supplies from Marco in a small sailboat. One day in the latter part of last March "Uncle" Charlie was returning from Marco, after having disposed of a load of alligator-skins, and with the usual load of provisions on board. Fortunately, he happened to have a companion along. As "Uncle" Charlie turned from that part of Marco Inlet known as Collier's Bay, up into the inside passage in the direction of the camp, he steadied his boat before the wind and started to light his pipe. Placing his knee against the rudder he pulled a match from his vest-pocket and struck it on his coat. Holding his hands over the pipe to protect the blaze from the wind, he was in the midst of this interesting act when, suddenly, a Mullet leaped from the water to port, and darted clean across the stern of the boat, directly in front of him. He had not time to express his astonishment ere, in close pursuit of the Mullet, a large Tarpon rose, and came across the boat like a bolt from a catapult. The progress of the boat before the wind or the Tarpon's line of assault came near making a fatal difference to "Uncle" Charlie. The huge fish struck him full in the chest, and tumbled him like a log over the side of the boat. The shock of the collision threw the Tarpon into the bottom of the boat, and left "Uncle" Charlie struggling in the water. His companion brought the boat to, and pulled the injured man out in a sadly dilapidated condition. Doctor Green, who attended the injured man, says he was confined to his bed for three weeks, and doubts whether he will ever recover entirely from the effects of his wound. But for the assistance of his companion, "Uncle" Charlie would unquestionably have been drowned. The Tarpon, the doctor stated, weighed one hundred and sixty-four pounds.
To those who have never seen a Mullet and Tarpon jump, this incident may appear remarkable; yet, so far as the jumping is concerned, there is nothing whatever extraordinary about it. Every day, during certain seasons, in those waters one can see the Bay Mullet making their customary three long skips, in any one of which they could easily clear a small boat. When chased by large fish, I have seen them make great leaps, darting out of the water with the rapidity of an arrow. Tarpon frequently leave the water while chasing Mullet, and when it comes to jumping, they are without an equal in the piscatorial world.
With the recital of a typical day's sport at Naples, I believe I will have told the reader about all that I know and that I consider worth relation in connection with this superb sport. I say "typical," but I mean that word only in a circumscribed sense. Possibly I should have said "typical good day's" sport; for many are the days when the Tarpon fisherman returns without anything to show for his efforts.
It was early in April, and the day was a bright and beautiful one. In company with my boatman, Ben, I started from the Hotel Naples at about nine o'clock in the morning. They do say that he who would catch a Tarpon must be up with the dawn; but, as I have almost invariably hooked my fish shortly before or after noon, I do not bother about an early start. The half-mile walk from the hotel back to the boat-house on the Bay of Naples is soon accomplished. The fishing-grounds are very accessible. A row of two miles up the bay, and we are at a favorite spot. The Bay of Naples is lined with Mangrove trees. These form a verdant border which blends happily with the dark waters, rendering the picture as lovely an one as human eye ever rested upon. Back of the Mangroves are the pine and hammock lands. Near our anchoring-point was a grove of tall palms, whose fans were rustling in the brisk southern breeze. Before casting anchor I drop my hook, baited with the tail-half of a Mullet, and direct Ben to row off twenty-five or thirty yards. The bait sinks to the bottom in five or six feet of water, near to the channel. Nothing to do now but await developments; so, making myself as comfortable as possible, I picked up a newspaper and commenced reading. Hardly had I read half-way down the first column, when the noise of a large body emerging from the water opposite my boat attracted my attention. It was a Tarpon, weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred pounds. His rise, which was a straight, upward bolt, carrying his tail three or four feet clear of the water's surface, was the first intimation I had that anything was on my line. A superb spectacle he presented, as he glittered for a moment there in mid-air. With mouth wide open and gills expanded, he angrily shook his head to relieve himself from the hook, and his whole body appeared to be quaking with nervous force. Back he drops with a great splash, and up anchor and hurry with the oars is the order of the moment in the boat. Scarcely a moment does he remain below, when out again he comes in almost the same spot. This time his efforts to free himself are successful, for he ejects the baited hook with enough force to throw it ten or fifteen feet from him. Disappointed, but knowing it could not have been avoided, fresh bait is cast out, and we resume fishing only a few feet away from the locality first taken.