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1973: Jim Harrison on Florida Keys Guides

Posted on May 08 2008

Looking again at a copy of “Tarpon,” the 1974 film by Guy de la Valdene and Christian Odasso of UYA Films, got me wondering more about the slice of time that produced so much interest in tarpon fishing and conservation in the Florida Keys. A little research turned up this piece by Jim Harrison in Sports Illustrated‘s December 1973 issue on the prominent Keys guides of the era: “When he is not enervated by bad weather, Woody Sexton gives the appearance of tremendous strength and vitality. He constitutes some sort of classic in conservative guiding; while most guides have turned to larger skiffs — Fiber Craft or Hewes — for the comfort of their customers, Sexton keeps his light Nova Scotia. The skiff was bought from a Hamiltonian Republican who named it Amagiri years ago after the Japanese destroyer that sank PT-109. The name is still on the skiff and has been known to vex some of the Navy personnel on the Keys.”
Interestingly, the makers of “Tarpon” chose not to focus on the guides but on the fish and the slightly hallucinatory experience of fly fishing on the flats. Harrison’s piece proves, I think, that the writers who were fishing there at the time understood the game very well, no doubt because of the guides, who were genuinely impassioned about the sport and not in the game to become celebrities. The film’s estimation of the threat to the future of tarpon bound the writers, guides, fishermen to accept that it was all too good to last. Yet here we are, 35 years later, with most of that first generation of expert guides gone, and the tarpon are still coming.

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