During the end of the 19th Century fishing for sport. Tarpon fishing started in 1884 after William Hood captured one. Now I'm thinking locals may have caught these fish long before Hood but according to the anglers records that was the beginning. Below are some excerpts regarding this sport.
Points about the Tarpon— The New York Times
The biggest fish that is caught in the waters of this country with rod and bait is, curiously, the first of the angling season to be sought after and to be found in our warmest climate. He is the noble king of herring, the tarpon. The sport of taking tarpon is a comparatively recent one, and it is not many years ago that the man who had caught a tarpon was as big a fellow among the angling fraternity as the tarpon is among fishes. Nowa-days the tarpon anglers are so abundant that reputation depends simply upon the size of the fish taken. There is considerable discussion as to who is entitled to the honor of having landed the biggest tarpon. Florida is a good way distant, and there is ample opportunity for the fish to increase in size as the news works northward. John G. Heckscher is believed to have secured the largest with rod and reel, his fish having been a veritable silver king of 184 pounds and landed after a two hours' struggle, in which Mr. Heckscher became very tired. The tarpon fishing does not start in much before February, though some are taken earlier. February and March are the best months. The fishing-tackle dealers have been improving on the tarpon outfit till this year they offer a very pretty equipment. The old bass rods, it was found, would not do. The tarpon anglers brought them back in the spring in pieces, and three or four were often shattered by one fisherman. The proper tarpon rod is a short one of about seven feet, made in two pieces. The butt is a foot and a half long, of hard rubber and the remaining joint is of noib wood. The tarpon line is specially manufactured of linen, and is made very strong. At first they used a small chain or piano wire for a leader, but it was found that the king herring would snap these very easily and cut through them. So now-a-days they use a sort of cotton material or thick cord. When the tooth of a tarpon strikes it, it mashes and softens and is pulpy, but the fish cannot cut through it. Thick worsted gut, which will become sott in the water, is also sometimes used. This completes the outfit, except a net or gaff for the boatman and a pair of thumbstalls. The tarpon hugs the bottom pretty close, so when the strong steel hook is baited with a piece of mullet it is dropped to the bottom. The fish is a bit wary, and when he suspects the bait is cautious. He is apt to take it up gingerly and travel a few feet. Then he will drop it. He is fond of mullet, however, and if his inspection does not alarm him he will take the food up again and rather slowly swallow it. So it behooves the angler not to hurry the fish. Wait until he has swallowed it and started off on a long run. When the line is tightened on the fish he will be hooked. Some anglers say they can tell by the draw of the fish whether it is a tarpon or a shark, but many are often disappointed to find their supposed tarpon nothing but a measly shark. The sharks are a great nuisance. It is a singular thing that a shark will cut through the cotton leader, while a tarpon cannot, but the chain or piano wire holds a shark fast. It is owing to their different kind of teeth. If a shark is on the line the best plan is to let him work off by himself. The tarpon is a beauty to look upon. The scales are regular and bright in color. When the tarpon is taken out of the water he looks as though he was silver-plated. They have even been taken in nets as far north as Long Island.
Source: Current Opinion ©1889
Tarpon Fishing Methods.—Florida and Texas.
I see from the October and November American AngUs that you have been down to Tarpon (Aransas Pass). I would like to know how the tarpon fishing there compares with the Florida fishing. I mean the manner of fishing for them: is It not done In an entirely different manner in many ways» Is the fi«hing at Tarpon not done in swifter water, no floats used and stronger lines necessary, and is not the best fishing done In rougher water? I think a great many of the Texas tarpon fishermen would like to see your answer In the American Anoler. I have shown the last Nos. 10 and 11 to several from this place, and several have asked me what you thought of the tarpon fishing at the Pass as oompared with the Florida tarpon fishing. Let us hear. Livi Lingo.
There is a marked difference in the methods of tarpon fishing at Aransas Pass from those in vogue in the waters of Florida. We think this arises from the fact that anglers at the former place very naturally fish at the head of the Pass, where the tarpon can be seen gathering in great shoals, awaiting in the strong tide way the immense herds of "shiners" which are apparently helpless in the rapid current and fall a prey easily to the silver kings. At the point referred to, when the tarpon are running (this occurs nearly every day in the week), the fish are so abundant that it is not unusual to have ten to twenty "plucks" during an hour and to hook and beach one or more tarpon in that time. When such a condition exists, an angler must indeed have great self denial to resist fishing in such a spot, albeit, it entails great physical endurance to kill a tarpon in the great rush of water at the head of the Pass. The excitement of hooking, loosing and possible capture of an hundred pounder compensates apparently for the mental and bodily strain. If the tarpon anglers of Aransas Pass would fish about a half mile or slightly more, above the head of the Pass on the edge of the main channel where comparatively still water exists, they would be compelled to resort to the methods used in Florida, viz, still fishing, with the bait lying upon the bottom in five to seven feet of water. We have often hooked tarpon in the locality referred to when anchored and fishing for small fish, hence we believe the tarpon resort to the edge of the channels to feed, in numbers far greater than in any section of Florida we ever visited. We must confess that we prefer the more quiet method of "still fishing " for tarpon. This may easily be accounted for, because our limbs are stiffened (not enfeebled) by the wear and tear of over three-score years, and the taking of a tarpon in the tide way at the head of the Pass puts a heavy strain upon the fisherman, who needs only muscle to beach his fish, as the boatman and the fish, when securely hooked, does all the rest of the work. Mr. Lingo will doubtless infer from the above that tarpon fishing in Florida is done in comparatively smooth water at the edge of channel ways, and that at Aransas Pass it is done in the rough waters of the Pass. The first is still fishing and the latter is trolling, except at times when the boat is anchored and the "shiner" bait is cast out upon the rushing waters. The latter method demands stronger tackle, as the fish are aided in resistance by the swift tide in their favor, hence they fight harder with greater strain on tackle, and the odds for liberty are strongly in their favor.
Source: The American Angler ©1897
It was in 1884 when William H. Wood of New York caught the first tarpon ever captured in Florida waters on hook and line. Before that period they had been occasionally killed with the grains, and one only is on record as being taken accidentally on a large trolling spoon. Mr. Wood, previous to 1884, annually visited the Gulf coast and was a keen observer of the habits of the tarpon, and determined to essay their capture by practical and scientific methods
He observed that the tarpon when hooked seldom failed to throw the hook from its jaw at the moment it leaped from the water, and from this knowledge came the inspiration that insured success in his future outings for these fish. His method was a simple one. Casting about one hundred feet from the boat, he allowed the mullet bait to sink to the bottom, and at once coiled twenty to thirty feet of slack line on the gunnel or seat of the boat. The tarpon bites at a bottom bait rather gingerly, and the first intimation that it is doing so is more of a gentle " draw " than the " pluck " of most salt-water fishes. As the tarpon drew slowly away, Mr. Wood paid out the slack line to its full extent and then struck the hook into the fish. A mad rush, a furious leap, the powerful convulsions of the body and the violent and continued shaking of the head and shoulders, which always follow the strike, were of no avail The bait had been swallowed and the steel was buried in the gullet of the fish.
From 1884 until a few years ago all tarpon anglers in Florida followed Wood's methods, and but few tarpon escaped after being hooked. In 1895 reports came from Aransas Pass, Texas, of the great numbers of tarpon being seen and captured in the rapid waters of the inlet. The method used was the reverse of that introduced by Mr. Wood. It was surface fishing with a hundred feet of line tightened on the strong tide, which flows on the ebb at a speed of eight to ten miles an hour in the Pass. The boat was either anchored or slowly rowed against the tide. Under such conditions it was seldom that more than one fish out of ten was killed The tarpon dashed at the floating line, and the hook failed to be embedded except in the outer jaw, and at the first mad leap of the fish was thrown from the mouth. During the last few years the anglers of Florida have discarded Mr. Wood's method, and now, as a rule, fish in swift waters of the inlets with the same results as obtains in Texan waters. It cannot be disputed that still-fishing for tarpon, as introduced by Mr. Wood, is the most scientific and enjoyable from an angling standpoint.
Source: Outing: Sport, Adventure, Travel, Fiction ©1899