With fluctuating water levels caused by El Niño, the 2015 jungle tarpon season certainly came in like a lamb as several groups experienced tougher then normal fishing conditions early in the season. The tarpon were still around in big numbers, but very low water caused extreme spookiness and other behavior implying fish being uneasy with the abnormal environmental factors at hand.
Fast forward to the end of the season, and the lion showed its presence. Following a fantastic Solid scouting trip in early November things continued to heat up with a couple smaller groups. Florida angler John K. had a frenzy to himself as he jumped 13 fish and landed 13 over the course of 4 days. Fish ranged from medium-sized 50 pounders to several high triple-digit bruisers. With a constant stream of tiny bait flushing out of the forest creeks, the jungle tarpon put on an incredible feeding show with explosive topwater takes echoing through the system every few seconds at the beginning and end of each day. Their intense focus on 1-inch baby guapote meant experimentation was required at the vise between each session to match the hatch (cold beer in hand of course), and a new creation monikered the “jungle tiny” emerged as a favorite when the tarpon began to shrug off the normally hot large deceivers. While John has fished tarpon extensively in his home waters and elsewhere, seeing the raw predatory force of these fish in such an intimate way against a rainforest backdrop with monkeys howling and birds shrieking left him continuously saying that “this is the best trip I’ve ever taken!” Next came a father-son group from Maine and Wyoming respectively to close the season. A fresh surge of water shuffled the deck a bit early in the week, but as things shifted to summer conditions again with extreme dryness in the headwaters of the river, and a high water system quickly began flushing bait in an astounding surge from ever corner of the jungle creeks and lagoons with jungle tarpon at their ready. Another impressive display left the anglers casting large flies at explosive topwater feeders in many of the sites for several days. The boys found many cooperative tarpon with 12 jumped and 8 landed over the course of 6 days with two mega-female fish topping the scales close to the magical 2-meter mark (~175-200 pounds). In both cases, the numbers of eats, swipes, explosive tail slaps, and other feeding behavior reached staggering numbers, but for the purpose of this recapitulation only fish put into the air or released quickly boatside were totaled.
With summer and the “dry season” now here, the jungle tarpon are slowly starting to drop back into the system towards the Caribbean until next season’s high water, and with scale samples from all landed and released fish now in the hands of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust we hope to turn our fun into valuable scientific data to help preserve this unique fishery. Working hand-in-hand with the local community and park system through our local partner Release Fly Travel’s newly formed nonprofit the Asociación Bosque del Sábalo will ensure the jungle tarpon find sanctuary for generations to come, and we look forward to sharing this wild nature place with the world in 2016 and beyond.