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  • Julia, the Tarpon

    Large migratory tarpon, jumping

    A few days ago I was fishing all by myself along the coast of Central Belize, in the vicinity of a very picturesque local fishing village.  A rickety old pier extended about one hundred feet from the shore.  A rusty old metal roof, just barely standing upright on the pier, supplied shade from the broiling afternoon sun.  Combined with a gentle afternoon sea breeze and a cooler with cold Belikin beer a few local fishermen lounged in the shade.  The only thing keeping them awake was the cold beer.

    I could not resist the temptation to take a break, so I eagerly joined the happy looking group in the shade.  They asked about my fishing success but were especially curious about the long skinny fly rods racked in my skiff.  Among many other fishing stories I carefully but casually explained the new Belize law about Catch and Release for Tarpon, Bonefish and Permit.  As commercial fishermen they found it difficult to believe that anyone would go to the trouble of catching big fish like tarpon and then letting them go alive back into the sea.  They had heard about Catch and Release but did not understand the concept. After a few minutes and a few more beers from my cooler they seemed convinced that Catch and Release was a good thing for sport fishermen, but were not quite convinced that the law was a good one for them also.

    Just as I was about to take leave of this relaxed and amiable group of local fishermen a young boy came running in from the end of the pier and in raw Creole he told us that a really big fish was in the water by the end of the pier, but it looked like it was dying.  Come quick he told us.  So we all hurried to the end of the rickety old pier.  Sure enough, there was a Tarpon, about 75 pounds, floating on its side, almost belly up, gasping for air.  The water appeared to be about four feet deep so I jumped in and signaled the group of onlookers for some help, but no one moved.  I approached the Tarpon from its back, then held its lower lip in my right hand and cradled its body with my left arm.  While standing on the grassy sea floor I slowly rocked the big fish back and forth, passing water over its gills.  For a few minutes, maybe two or three, it did not seem that I was having any effect on reviving the fish.  So I splashed more water and bubbles into its open mouth and past its gills for another five or ten minutes.  Very slowly at first the big fish seemed to be waking up, righting its body and slowly moving its tail ever so slightly.  I continued the splashing and rocking for several more minutes, getting myself a bit winded in the process.  This was no easy job but I could see that the fish was now showing the will to live and I felt responsible for saving its life.  After all, this Tarpon was now legally protected in Belize and I just had to help in any way I could.  I was even feeling good that I had been a key player in influencing legislation for Catch and Release of this species as well as for Bonefish and Permit.

    It now seemed I had been working with this fish for about half an hour and I was becoming exhausted.  One of my new found friends on the pier even extended his beer for me to take a swallow.  Wow, another cold Belikin to my rescue!
    Well my new friend with the big scales, big eyes and slimy body was now well awake and quite ready to go, so I pushed her forward to test her reflexes. As I shook her tail she lunged forward and swam away for about ten yards or so but circled back toward me.  My fishy friend circled me several times staying just about six feet away.  Her eyes seemed to be checking me out and I even imagined I saw eyes of appreciation.  I could hear the audience, now up to about twenty persons cheering on the fish to swim, swim, go, go, go!

    I felt so good, I’d done the right thing, helped another tarpon to survive its human contact. Now the fish came even closer and was actually rubbing up against my legs, like a big cat or dog that wanted more affection and did not want to leave my side.Then I found myself talking to the Tarpon.  I must have babbled on something about our lucky day but I do remember asking, what is your name, where are you from, what happened to you, how did you get here?

    To my amazement the Tarpon answered in a loud and clear voice, in English: “I am Julia, I came from Florida, I followed in the wake of a cruise ship, I fed on soupy food scraps they flushed out for me, but I suddenly felt sick and passed out. I must have drifted for a few hours.  Then you showed up.  Thank you, thank you for waking me up.  How can I ever repay you for saving my life.” I told Julia that tomorrow we would be tagging a big tarpon with a satellite tag to see where it goes from here, and would she be willing for us to place a tag in her back to follow her for about six months.  Julia told me that would be OK by her but the tag would not really be necessary as she could tell me right now that she was heading for Venezuela.

    I was thrilled to be so privileged to be having a conversation with a Tarpon, one who might someday be really famous.  I also have witnesses who heard both sides of the conversation between me and Julia.  So look out for my friend Julia, the talking Tarpon who we tagged next morning.

    And then…………………………….I woke up from my dream about Julia the big Tarpon.  This dream was so real I got up and made some notes so I could share with you my experience with Julia.

    I hope you enjoyed my Tarpon dream.
    Warm regards,
    Mike Heusner

    PS  A 100 pound Tarpon was tagged next day.  Six months later  that tag was found on Manatee Beach, the exact place where I first met Julia.

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    3rd Annual Tagging Challenge
    2014

    Please help us, help Bonefish, Permit & Tarpon, while having a fun time fishing.  We have scheduled the dates March 26 to April 2, 2014 for the 3rd challenge.

    Enjoy great saltwater fishing and help to gather the needed scientific data to help protect Belize’s flats by spaghetti tagging bonefish and permit, dna testing tarpon and satellite tagging large tarpon – all in a day’s fishing.   Please contact us for more information.

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    Central America
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