When I started guiding in the Florida Keys in the 1980s, I heard about a VHS copy of some “underground” tarpon footage floating around. It was almost a myth or a legend or a bootleg documentary. It was a film that got finished in 1973 and released to the public but hardly anybody saw it, and it disappeared into obscurity. Word was Capt. Nat Ragland had a copy. It took a while, but I finally got to see it over at Steve Chappell’s house in Marathon one night when Nat brought it over. The film was mainly put together by Guy de la Valdene who was buddies with Gil Drake and Tom McGuane and Jim Harrison. As the film came together more players came aboard: Richard Brautigan, Ray Donnersberger, Woody Sexton, Page Brown, Steve Huff, Bob Montgomery. A guy from Paris by the name of Christian Odasso was a film maker and had access to some fancy camera gear and he got contracted to shoot the footage; around Key West and out to the tarpon runs at the Marquesas, Boca Grande, Pearl Basin, Woman Key, Ballast Key…wherever they could find fish.

Jimmy Buffet did the music.

Besides some remarkable tarpon footage, the film also features a look at the seedy side of Key West “head boat” fishing (everything dies, including permit on the spikes), and conversations with some of the true pioneers of Key West fly rod tarpon fishing. These were primitive days of the sport…you will see fiberglass fly rods, skiffs before poling platforms were invented, outboard motors that were tilted up by hand. If you look closely you will see a tarpon fly rigged with a wire shock tippet!

When I finally got to see this film I was in awe…even more so because I got to know quite a few of the players!

Hard to believe it was shot nearly 50 years ago!

The full movie is no longer available on YouTube but watch the trailer here:

“Tarpon” Movie Trailer (youtube.com)