Rare Piebald Tarpon Caught-and-Released

On Saturday, June 5, a New Yorker named George Seibel and his wife went on a tarpon-fishing charter off Anna Maria Island with Captain Clark Wright. They used blue crabs as bait and caught a decent number of tarpon before the bite started to slow down.

Captain Wright had taken DNA samples from each tarpon, as is his custom. He was wrapping up the boat to start heading back but decided to leave a line out with a whole blue crab on it. A minute later, a large fish broke the water about 50 yards out.

"Did you see that Matt?" the captain shouted to his first mate. "It has a bright orange head!"

"No, really?" asked Matt, who hadn't seen the fish jump.

George Seibel, who had the rod in his hand, rang in, "Yes, really!"

They all saw the weird-looking fish jump the next time, and Captain Wright started up the boat to go after it while George reeled it in. The New York visitor fought for 45 minutes before bringing in a tarpon decorated with beautiful cream-and-orange spots.

The first mate, Matt Smithman, carefully pulled the tarpon into the boat and held the 130-pound tarpon while Captain Wright scrubbed its cheek with a special pad from a DNA recapture kit. The pad turned white, indicating a good DNA sample was taken.

After a couple of quick photos, mate Smithman returned the tarpon to its salty home and off it swam.

When they got back home, Captain Wright, who has been involved for 10 years with the Tarpon Genetics Recapture Program run by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), called Kathyrn Guindon, an assistant research scientist at the FWC. She asked if he had taken a DNA sample.

"Yes I did," was the answer.

Guindon was pleased. She had heard reports of such tarpon over the years, but no one ever got a DNA sample. Guindon identified the tarpon from the photos as a Piebald tarpon, which indicates a pattern of bare spots from unpigmented scales and skins.

Captain Wright, who usually fishes Sarasota Bay for redfish, trout and other gamefish, said when it's tarpon season, it's all about the tarpon.

"That's all I fish for right now," he said. "I'm just glad that we caught it so a DNA sample was obtained. Right place, right time, I guess."

Anglers interested in participating in the Tarpon Genetics Recapture Program can go to the 'Read More' link below to learn more and order a kit from the FWC.

TOF Editorial Team

Captain Clark Wright

(941) 809-8160
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