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Fish on!

A tarpon “dances on its tail” off the Bahia Honda Bridge in the lower Florida Keys in a photo taken aboard Capt. Elmo Capo’s charter boat Fiji III out of Marathon, Fla.

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Charter captains are a special breed, and Capo was one of them — a waterman who gave his life over to saltwater fishing, learning all he could about the fish that swarmed in the local waters and how to find them among the shoals and shallows, reefs and rocks and railroad bridges that characterized the Keys. For 30 years, through the 1950s, Capo, who lived in a small cottage on Vaca Key, was also among the best-known. “Fish the conditions,” was his motto, and clients, including President Herbert Hoover, usually came away happy. Memorable catches aboard his series of boats named Fiji ran from a record 168-pound marlin in 1934 to a 150-pound tarpon “on a 15 thread” in 1952. Elmo Capo knew where the fish were.

He also knew how to handle a boat. Outdoors writer Jack Mock recorded the following battle with a tarpon and a Keys railroad bridge in 1949. When first hooked on the bay side of the bridge, the “silver king” raced under the railroad viaduct to the ocean side, and Capo calmly backed the boat through the archway as the angler took up slack. The fish then swam around the bridge abutment and back to the bay, around another abutment and back to the ocean again, Capo following each time in reverse, “sometimes the boat only a few feet away from the unforgiving stone,” Mock wrote.
After 30 harrowing minutes, they brought the 105-pound tarpon alongside on a line heavily chafed by the bridge abutments, admired the catch and released it. “This could hardly have been accomplished without Elmo’s miraculous handling of the boat,” said Mock. “A kiddie car on a smooth sidewalk could not have been maneuvered more expertly.”
All in a day’s work for a Keys charter skipper.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.