By: Stu Apte May 14, 2014

People that know me know that fishing has always been the greatest thing in my life. In fact, it is my life because I am a professional fisherman. I am never happier than when I have my fly rod in hand and I am prospecting the Florida Keys Flats for tarpon.

The light tackle bug bit me at the tender young age of 12, when I acquired an old split-bamboo casting rod and fresh water, Shakespeare plug-casting reel. With that rig, I landed my first tarpon, a 15 pounder. A few years later, I earned enough money for my first fly rod, and I was hooked for keeps.

Homer Rhode Jr., then a game warden and noted fly fisherman taught me how to tie saltwater flies and in 1948, I caught my first tarpon on one. A year later I landed my first really big tarpon, a 96 ½ pounder, while using a  Heddon-Pal tubular steel 5 ½ foot rod and a Pflueger Akron reel with 15 pound test black nylon line, fishing from the beach at Big Marco Pass. It seemed as if I always had a fishing rod of some kind in my hands in those days. Now let’s advance the clock...

The month was April. The year was 1962 and I was a fishing guide in the Lower Florida Keys. For the past hour my customer, Ray D. had been hooked to a large tarpon we both wanted badly. I knew this fish would be a contender for the all-time fly rod record in the Metropolitan Miami Fishing Tournament. Ray was fishing with a new type glass fly rod, and this was definitely not the time for experimenting. He was a top-notch fly fisherman and a fantastic person. I wasn’t really worried about losing that tarpon.

The morning was flat calm as we neared the area and spotted the first school of about 30 tarpon circling on the surface in a daisy chain. As I poled near the school, he made his cast just to the outside of the circle, so that on the retrieved, his fly would move in the same direction as the fish, in order not to alarm them. The tarpon took the fly eagerly, but all of the floating grass and seaweed that came in with the tide was getting on the fly line, making the fight a difficult one. Finally, the moment of truth was at hand.

When it comes time to land a big tarpon or any big fish it is important to have a rod with sufficient butt strength to lift its head to the surface. I was ready with the gaff and Ray was working the fish into position. Just as I made my move, Ray exerted a bit more pressure than the thin-walled fiberglass rod had to offer and it literally exploded into 6 pieces just as I struck the tarpon. I had gaffed that fish at the same instant the rod came apart.

The Met tournament, and IGFA rules states that a broken rod disqualifies the catch. Did the rod break before or after the fish had been legally caught? Being the sportsmen my client was, he refused to claim the fishing even though it weighed 128 pounds, 3 pounds heavier than the Met record at that time.

Ray was awarded the Philip Wylie Tough Luck Trophy.