At 200-plus lbs., this is a tarpon to harp on.

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July 24, 2001, 8:33PM

At 200-plus lbs., this is a tarpon to harp on.

By JOE DOGGETT, Houston Chronicle

"The Big Mamoo" at last was brought to hand. A 202 1/2-pound tarpon -- the first certified 200-pounder on a fly -- was caught May 11 by Jim Holland Jr. while fishing with guide Steve Kilpatrick near Homosassa, Fla.

The great fish recently was approved as the all-tackle fly-rod record by the International Game Fish Association. It beat by a considerable margin the previous record, a 188-pounder caught at Homosassa by Billy Pate in 1982.

Holland used a 20-pound tippet (the heaviest allowed by IGFA), a G. Loomis GLX 12-weight rod and a Tibor Gulfstream reel. The tarpon, which measured 85 inches in length and 47 inches in girth, was landed in one hour and 58 minutes -- a testimony to angler, tackle and guide.

Holland, of Vancouver, Wash., was sharing the skiff with his father. Weather conditions of high cloud cover were not conducive for spotting fish, but the reduced visibility might have been a bonus.

"The fact that I couldn't see just how big the fish was helped me to remain calm and really put the pressure on it," said Holland, a six-year veteran of fly fishing for tarpon. "After all, I was only trying to beat dad's 150-pounder from earlier in the week, and even the guide was still thinking maybe 165 or 175 with the fish at boatside.

"When Dad ran his calculations based on the length and girth method and it came to 206 pounds (rough estimate), we were all stunned."

Holland had previously purchased the Florida $40 tarpon kill tag, and he and his party promptly decided to keep the fish and race to certified scales.

"We got the fish on the scales, which finally settled at 202 1/2," he said. "My first thought was, `Oh, my God! We just made history!"

That history was a long time coming. The quest for the 200-pounder -- the Big Mamoo -- dates at least to the mid-1960s, when the high-powered sport of fly fishing for tarpon gained prominence in south Florida.

In 1966, legendary Keys guide George Hommel said, "I have no doubt whatsoever that someone will soon land a 200-pounder on a fly."

He made that statement after losing on the gaff a fly-hooked tarpon estimated at 200-plus pounds.

Famous Florida guide/angler Stu Apte echoed that opinion in an article, "World Record Tarpon," in the August 1967 issue of Outdoor Life.

"In 1964," Apte wrote, "I came within an eyelash of gaffing a 200-pounder. The fish was hooked by Ray Donnersberger at a place I now call Monster Point."

According to Apte, Donnersberger's fish was injured while jumping in shallow water and swam dazed alongside the skiff.

"I reached for the gaff," Apte wrote. "But then the leader slipped under the gill plate and was cut, and the fish swam slowly away."

Apte is among the most qualified of all anglers to track the early efforts of pursuing the Big Mamoo. He guided angling great Joe Brooks to his 148 1/2-pound world record, then in 1967 upped the ante with his own 151-pound world record.

Those early catches were all the more remarkable when you realize the heaviest class tippet allowed at the time was 12-pound test.

The tackle improved, and the guidelines expanded, and during the 1980s and '90s, the quest for giant tarpon expanded worldwide.

Subsequent tides carried tales of heartbreaking losses and unconfirmed catches, but the certified 200-pound tarpon remained an unobtainable goal until Holland made his cast.

The 200-pound barrier will be broken again. Count on it. And despite the populations of giant tarpon in South America and Africa and even our own upper Gulf Coast, the new record almost certainly will come from Florida. For it is in Florida where the conditions of sight casing to huge tarpon are most consistent.

And -- no small factor -- the relatively shallow water in which many of these Florida fish are encountered prevents deep sounding while encouraging the fast and flashy fight that allows the fly rodder to stay in the game.

Big tarpon in deep, open water are a grueling prospect on even the heaviest fly rod. For this reason, it is unlikely that a 200-pound-class fish will be caught in the Gulf off Texas or Louisiana.

But others will show in Florida. And the top-end potential on the right spring tide might be scary.

"In 1963, I saw a tarpon that was much closer to 300 than to 250 pounds," wrote Apte in the 1967 article. "We were fishing the ocean side of Sugarloaf Key when the tarpon inhaled Sam's fly. It was gigantic.

"Sam was so shaken that he froze on the reel, and the line snapped. It was by far the biggest that I have ever encountered anywhere."

Do such titanic tarpon still swim? That is a possibility to ponder next year, when the full-moon tides of April and May again carry obsessed Florida fly rodders within reach of the Big Mamoo.
 


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