Several hours of angling in the blaze of the Florida sun are sufficient for most of us, and I felt weary and dispirited. There were several young tarpon about; we had seen them. I resolved on a final try. The waters met at the end of a long island, and I cast into the swirling ripples on either side of me. The line tightened, the reel screeched, and I was into something big. That day I had brought to net and gaff some seventy pounds of various fish, and for a moment I imagined that my prey was a big ' channel bass.' I thrilled a moment later when, with a magnificent leap, a ' silver king,' an unmistakable tarpon, sprang up fiercely and came down again ready for another rush.
We were off after him without a second's delay. He took us hither and thither at a speed that made us despair of getting him. It is perhaps the uncertainty, the nervous fears as to the strength of one's cast, one's line, and one's rod that help to make angling what it is, and I had my fill of all these sensations on that occasion, for none of my tackle was suited to its work.
One great danger of the episode was the attempt of my friend to get to ' weed'—to the roots of the mangrove trees. This had to be avoided at all cost, and, with many a foreboding of disaster, I strained my little rod to the utmost and turned the fish's head down stream. Up he came again into the sunlight, shaking his head savagely, off to the other side of the pool, up again and again and again. Presently he slackened, and I reeled him in a bit. Heavily handicapped by the shortness of my line, I was obliged to be after him during the whole of the contest, and the sturdy frame of my most skilful of boatmen was showing signs of a breakdown. He had been up and down stream all the morning, and the afternoon sun was at its fiercest.
It is stated that every time a tarpon ' blows ' he gains another ten minutes' strength. My fish came up for the purpose often enough, but, fortunately, he counteracted his breathing by an extra number of jumps. How one holds one's breath at the sight of these magnificent leaps for liberty ! They form the most anxious moments of all for the man who knows that at best his fish is but slightly hooked. I knew this only too well, for my minnow was practically worn out when I began my afternoon's work.
Master Tarpon tried a new move. He made straight down stream, and I kept as much strain on him as I dared. I think he helped to drown himself by his last manoeuvre, for his next leap was a feeble one. The last moment was approaching, the most anxious one of all. There's many a slip 'twixt fish and creel. The awful thought, ' will my gaffer fail me ?' has occurred to all of us. Fortunately my friend—I could have embraced him at the moment—got the little beauty—he scaled just over ten pounds some time afterwards—safely into the boat, and that night the fish, the first of the season at Naples-on-the-Gulf, was laid out at the pleasant little hostelry in that most charming of spring resorts and duly admired and toasted.
All this is purely personal and much too egotistic, and the intending tarponeer, if I may make a new word, is anxious for practical advice. Having killed your tarpon, what should you do with him ? You wish to preserve him, of course, and to get him home. If you are on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, you cannot do better than send to Frederick Steens-gaard, taxidermist, Fort Myers, Florida. Lay the fish with its best side downward (one side is sure to be injured by the gaff) on some sacking, or other soft material. Make a cut in the side of the fish, about three inches from the belly and in the middle, removing the entrails. Put in four or five hand-fuls of salt, and fill the opening with moss or grass. Now turn the fish with its best side up, and forward to the taxidermist, carefully covering it with sacking or canvas, and mark it ' This side up'.
Mr. Steensgaard is a good sportsman, as well as a fish mounter. He will fix your tarpon for you at what we should consider a very moderate price (2 l. to 5 l.), and he forwards it to England for about 1 l.
As a rule tarpon are mounted on a board, and not usually kept in a glass case. Do not hang your fish where the sun shines on it, or the scales will become discoloured ; and be careful not to hang it over a fireplace. If it should become dusty it should be carefully rubbed with a duster; if stained or fly-specked a very small quantity of spirits of wine should be applied.