What Yancy Rounsavall knew about tarpon he learned watching television or reading magazines.
That didn’t keep him from wanting to catch one.
So for his 47th birthday earlier this month the Tyler resident’s uncle, Davis Smith, gave him a present of a charter trip out of Galveston
“I have been on those charters that go offshore for snapper, but this was my first time to ever go out on a trip like this,” Rounsavall said. “It is one of those fish you hear about and think it would be cool to catch.”
Texas’ tarpon fishery was once as good as there was, but in the 1970s fish numbers began to decline because of commercial fishing, construction of the Intracoastal Waterway starting in the 1940s and inland reservoirs that reduced freshwater flowing into the bays.
Sometime in the 1990s something changed and tarpon numbers have started to increase steadily in recent years, although they still have not reached the levels they were in the 1930s when then-President Franklin Roosevelt came to Port Aransas to fish for them.
Today two populations migrate in and out of Texas, an eastern population that moves back and forth from the Texas Upper Coast to Florida and a western population that roams from Mexico up into Texas’ Lower and Middle coastal areas.
The western population is the healthier of the two with the best fishing often a mile or two offshore.
Both populations begin migrating in to Texas waters in April and are gone by November as the fish are not able to tolerate cool water temperatures.
With calm waters it started off a good morning for Rounsavall to be fishing the Galveston Bay complex with Capt. Chris Jamail of Hook Set Charters, but it turned out to be one of those days that nothing was going to come easy.
“We looked all day. The captain said we put about 110 miles on the boat looking for them. They said they were in 40 to 45 feet of water, and we looked all day,” Rounsavall said.
In the deep water the captain found the baitfish he was after, but the tarpon were not with them. To break the monotony Rounsavall and Smith caught a few sharks during the day.
With time running out the guide made a run to the Galveston seawall where the water was 20 to 29 feet deep.
“There were baitfish breaking water and in less than 20 minutes we saw tarpon rolling everywhere,” Rounsavall said.
The guide quickly put out trolling lines and Rounsavall, a deckhand and another fisherman started casting artificial lures toward the fish. The other fisherman got the first hookup, but the line broke on the fish’s first jump.
Then the deckhand hooked a fish and immediately handed the rod to Rounsavall, who quickly realized why tarpon are considered such trophies.
“That ----was pulling. People will tell you they are strong, they are strong, they are strong. I had no idea. I kept telling the captain it had to weigh more than 227 pounds. He asked me why 227 and I said that is what I way and I can usually handle anyone up to my size,” he joked.
For 45 minutes the fisherman battled with his birthday present, losing line a lot quicker than he was taking it in.
“The captain said to turn his head. He said when he came up to get air, turn his head. I turned his head, and the captain said ‘We got him now. He will be in the boat in five more minutes.’ The last time he said that 25 minutes later I had to give up the rod,” Rounsavall said.
Even with the captain using the boat to put pressure on the fish it wasn’t in any hurry to be reeled in.
“He had to motor it quite a few times and each time he would say we broke the fish’s spirit, but no one told the fish. When it decided to run it was gone and I lost what I had gained in the last 15 minutes and would have to try to reel him back in,” Rounsavall said.
In this case they were up against a smart fish. While it would surface occasionally before diving again, it only jumped once helping it conserve energy. Rounsavall said Jamail said the fish often jump three or four times, which helps tire them out.
Forty-five minutes into the action the battle was over…at least for Rounsavall, whose muscles gave out. It turned out to be just the mid-point of the fight.
“I felt bad at first about giving up, but the kid I gave it to only lasted 20 minutes and he had to give it up,” Rounsavall said, adding a third fisherman took another 20-minute turn before the fish was finally at the boat.
Going for catch and release they quickly measured the fish and grabbed two scales for trophies before turning it loose.
“Our best measurement alongside the boat was 6 foot 7, but it was probably a couple of inches longer. The girth measurement was 3 foot 4. The chart showed it would weigh 160 pounds, but the captain said that was a big 160. We guessed it between 160 and 180,” Rounsavall said.
In comparison, the state record, caught in 2006 out of Galveston, weighed 210 and measured almost 7-7 in length.
Already calling it the trip of a lifetime, since returning to East Texas Rounsavall has talked to a number of people who told him just how fortunate he was to catch such a trophy.
“I knew it was a good trip, but I didn’t realize just how special it was,” he said.
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