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HARRY’S FIRST TARPON

BY BARRY BECK

Harry Schoel is the real deal, he lives and breaths fly fishing. If it has fins and swims Harry wants to catch it, forget how big or small or if it jumps, takes a dry fly, or eats a San Juan worm. Harry really doesn’t care, he is simply in love with fly fishing. It’s all okay. An electrical engineer by profession Harry works to fuel his passion and along with fly fishing, that passion also includes fly tying. Creator, inventor and more Harry’s flies are true works of art, one look in any of his many fly boxes and one comes away salivating.

By this time I think you’re probably getting the point – this story is all about Harry. We are in Holbox, Mexico, a small island north of Cancun, it’s Harry’s 50th birthday and all he wants is to catch a tarpon.

Holbox is quite a journey from Harry’s home in Vessel-Lo, Belgium, but you’ll not find tarpon there and a tarpon has been on Harry’s bucket list for a long time. So at six o’clock in the morning we meet our guide on the beach in front of the Holbox Tarpon Club, load way too much gear in the boat and sit back and wait out the ride to the baby tarpon flats which have made Holbox famous. Darwin, our guide, cuts the motor as we drift into a mangrove lined lagoon. Ahead we see fish rolling and Harry is already on deck fly in hand and more then ready to cast. Darwin tells Harry to wait. I relay the instructions to Harry as Darwin poles the boat closer. Finally the command comes to cast and I watch Harry’s fly line roll out and the fly land perfectly in front of the rolling fish.

Holbox is quite a journey from Harry’s home in Vessel-Lo, Belgium, but you’ll not find tarpon there and a tarpon has been on Harry’s bucket list for a long time. So at six o’clock in the morning we meet our guide on the beach in front of the Holbox Tarpon Club, load way too much gear in the boat and sit back and wait out the ride to the baby tarpon flats which have made Holbox famous. Darwin, our guide, cuts the motor as we drift into a mangrove lined lagoon. Ahead we see fish rolling and Harry is already on deck fly in hand and more then ready to cast. Darwin tells Harry to wait. I relay the instructions to Harry as Darwin poles the boat closer. Finally the command comes to cast and I watch Harry’s fly line roll out and the fly land perfectly in front of the rolling fish.

Darwin tells him to strip and Harry responds. I see the tell-tale wake behind Harry’s fly and then Darwin yells to set the hook as the juvenile tarpon takes the fly. Harry lifts the rod and Darwin moans as the tarpon goes airborne. One jump and the fly comes out, the game is over. Darwin is now shouting, “Set the hook with your line hand, set it hard, don’t lift the rod, this is no trout, Se? Harry gets it, “Yes, amigo I see”. We repeat the process on another rolling fish with the same results. Harry remains undaunted and on the next take the hook stays in – success at last. Harry smiles at the camera with his first ever tarpon. Forget that it’s small, it’s Harry’s first and that’s all that matters. Ten minutes later he lands his first snook and now he thinks this is pretty awesome.

Day two at Holbox and we head out to look for a big boy. Harry’s Sage eight weight SALT is replaced with a SALT twelve weight. Geared up and ready, Harry looks anxious. Two hours later and he’s into a fish that looks to be around eighty pounds. The fish is continually airborne and Harry remembers now to bow with the rod, it’s a picture book ending with the tarpon photographed and carefully released. So we go from a five pound fish to a fish pushing eighty or more. Not a bad start and then later in the day Harry fights and lands a fish that looks closer to one hundred. One look at Harry and you’d think that he died and went to heaven. At the end of the day as we headed back to the lodge, I said “Mission accomplished,” and congratulated Harry on his tarpon. Smiles from ear to ear his face said it all. He thought for a minute and then added, “The larger tarpon are so exciting and I will always remember them, but that baby tarpon, well that was the first and it was special.”

That night over dinner Harry talked about a a new Sage coming out, a friend in the know said that it was a more moderate action. Harry said he couldn’t wait to see it, it should be perfect for small grayling and then he went on to talk about east coast steelhead and a trip he has planned for this fall. His dinner disappeared and I know he probably doesn’t remember what he ate but that’s Harry, whose level of enthusiasm has no bounds.

For me it’s a pump-up to see this level of excitement, to spend time with someone so engrossed in a sport we all love so much. I have a Kiwi friend who would say, “Good on you, Harry Schoel”.

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