My first encounter with a tarpon was in the spring of 1953, when my dad took Bobby Baldwin, Walter Freeman and me to fish for them near the mouth of the New River, near Freeport, Texas.  To create a safe harbor for Freeport, the New River channel of the Brazos River, was man made.  What this created was a five-mile long fish haven and prior to their beach runs of the summer, tarpon loaded it up in the spring.

Dad and Dub Middleton had fished this area the past weekend and caught and released two tarpon.  Both were caught on red and white Zara Spooks, that were wooden, top water plugs.  The fish were caught by “walking the dog” past the schools of surfacing, rolling tarpon.

“Walking the dog” is a term used for a specific type of retrieve—twitch the rod tip and then reel one turn of the reel handle, then twitch and reel, twitch and reel, for the entire retrieve.  The lure is moved along slowly, twitching to each side, resembling a small, injured fish.  This is still one of the most favored retrieves for fishing for trout and red fish.

One more point, these fish were caught on light, split Calcutta cane, popping rods and Shakespeare Criterion reels, loaded with fifteen or seventeen pound, braided line, linen, I think.  Below is Dad’s old, circa 1933, reel with the original braided line still on!

The reel had no drag system and, to control a fish, pressure was applied by using the angler’s thumb. Blisters were common and often, band aids were used, for as long as they stayed on.!

We, Bobby, Walter, Dad and I, arrived at the fishing spot right after sun up and walked about a hundred yards to the river’s bank.  The walk seemed like a walk through a garbage dump, the area being littered with the remains of tarpon.

Tarpon aren’t a food fish and common sense says they should be returned live to the water, but these fish were caught, killed, I’m sure pictures were taken, smiles and all, and then simply left to rot.  What a waste of a fine fishing resource.  By the early 1960’s the tarpon had left New River.  Useless killing of fish played a role in this disappearance, but the main culprit, thought by most fisherman, were the huge chemical complexes that sprouted up around Freeport.

After passing through the stench of rotting fish, we started fishing, casting to rolling schools of tarpon.  They were everywhere along the river and, up and down you could hear folks holler when one was hooked.  Being teenagers, we watched the show and then my dad, under his breath, let out a “Hmmpf”, his rod bowed and a silvery/green tarpon cleared the water then headed upstream toward Rosenberg!  “Did you see that?  Wow!”  We shouted all at once and just then, the hook pulled out, leaving Dad with a sore thumb!

I still have my dad’s, scarred up, Zara Spook in a picture box display of all of his fishing plugs.  The spook must be eighty years old!

No more tarpon that day and not another one until 1998.