Tarpon, It’s All About Letting Go

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

All you have to do is let go.

The step is about three inches wide by ten inches long. Really only big enough for the ball of one foot. There’s not enough head room to stand straight, not even close. It would be an uncomfortable place to stand if there weren’t an eighty mile per hour wind in my face. As it is, it’s the grip of my hands on the strut, not my foot on the step, that is keeping me here. All I have to do is let go. It would be completely terrifying if I were not forty-five-hundred feet in the air.

The idea that the fancy backpack I’m wearing, the contents of which I have never seen, will magically blossom to save me from the jaws of death is the greatest of abstraction. The thought that, should something go wrong, the bicycle helmet on my head will protect me feels completely insane.

I know I shouldn’t look down but it’s pointless to fight the urge. The ground below seems wholly unreal. Like a child’s train set dotted with little plastic trees and houses. It vanishes and reappears through the milky haze below. All I can hear is the wind. All I can feel is the sky tugging me away from the plane and my heart pounding in my chest. I remember my father, an Air Force fighter pilot, telling me, “Son, never get out of a perfectly good airplane.” The jump master turns to look me in the eye and points his finger at the ground. Time to go.

The time for inner monologue is over. Once the airplane soars off without you, or you without it, there is no time to think, only time to do. Lots of things can happen. Wonderful things. Things like watching a beautiful sunset in fast forward as you plummet from the sunshine to a dark earth where it is already night. Fantastically bad things can happen as well. You will never know which, until you let go.


As it turns out, the parachute did open and something did go wrong. I spun wildly and the cords twisted as tight as a Spanish Windless around my head and the bicycle helmet did actually protect me and I did make time to think, about dying! Then the whole mess magically untangled and when my feet touched the ground I rolled in the grass and laughed like a child. I couldn’t remember ever being happier.

That’s kind of what it felt like the first time I stuck a tarpon. My heart pounding, the wind roaring in my ears, my feet perched on the bow of the boat. Things wonderful and awful lying out there in the water before me. No idea which would come to pass. Feeling wholly inadequate and unprepared. I took the cast, shit went wrong, this time it did not magically work itself out and the huge fish soared off without me.

That’s about what I expected. Still, it’s all about letting go. Not of the fish, of course, and certainly not of the boat but letting go of your fear. Your fear of failure. Your fear of being inadequate. Your fear of everyone seeing a fish get the best of you. It’s going to happen. More times than it doesn’t, to you and everyone else who throws a fly at a fish as big as they are. You’re going to get your ass handed to you more times than not and that’s not just part of the game, it is the game.

The thrill of tarpon on the fly is in taking on a task for which you can never be completely prepared. The idea of landing and holding that fish is so abstract that when it happens you may find yourself rolling on the deck laughing like a child. Even when the fish beats you it’s cause for celebration because you did it. You took the leap and you danced with one of the oceans’ most splendid creations.

When I made my first cast to a tarpon, I expected to feel out of control. I expected to feel unprepared. I guess if I’d thought about it I would have expected it to feel like jumping from a plane. What I didn’t expect is that it would feel that way every, single time.

That’s what I love about tarpon. The feeling of being out of control. The idea of being in a fight I shouldn’t be able to win, but might. The feeling that something wonderful, or awful, is about to happen and having no idea which. I love the adrenaline, I love the fear, I love the challenge.

But most of all, I love the letting go.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “Tarpon, It’s All About Letting Go

  1. Provocative piece, Louis. I remember sticking my first tarpon on a fly some 20 years ago, and I recall the excitement when I was able to get one to the side of the boat. Tarpon are so magnificent that the opportunity to dance with then off the front deck of a flats boat always causes me to tremble with excitement.

    In my younger days I jumped from airplanes in the army and flew helicopters in combat. My first first parachute jump and the first time I knew I was taking enemy fire did create big-time adrenalin rushes, but I never thought about comparing tarpon fishing with them until your piece. People may not believe a fishing experience can be that exhilarating until they actually do it… seeing a pod of 100 to 200 pound fish closing fast at 1 o’clock is special. Mastering the moment is challenging and exciting. Everyone should try it. It is certainly a safer way to get a major rush than jumping from a perfectly good airplane or flying helicopters in combat.

  2. Gotta love those moments that are filled with exciting, fearful, anxious, insanity. I remember the first time I went skydiving. I’ve yet to feel the same rush of exciting emotions before letting go of that plane that day, but I welcome anything that has the potential of besting that moment.

  3. Excellent writing. The essence of great flyfishing. In my eyes this might also be what fishing is all about; seeking the thin line between control and no control, and especially enjoying the latter.

  4. What’s the quote from Tarpon? “Hemingway said a beautiful thing about owning something: You can’t truly own something until you’ve let it go.” It’s been too long since I’ve seen that movie. Almost 4 months.

  5. Pingback: Weekly Review | michiganfly

  6. This is great writing; far above the expected caliber you see in magazines. At the point where “something did go wrong” I was on the edge of my chair. I frantically hit the “read more” button. And 3 minutes later I felt silly when I thought “of course he’s OK; I’m reading this 6 years later, right? Thanks for making my morning, if I ever get to FL again or Costa Rica I will give tarpon a try.

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