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Texans have always been good at telling fish stories, but the Tarpon Inn in Port Aransas can out-exaggerate even the saltiest fisherman. This beachy hotel has been giving Mustang Island visitors a place to rest their heads and share their stories since 1886.
I traveled to the coast to enjoy that golden time when the weather turns colder and “island time” slows to a standstill. After walking the quiet streets of Port Aransas, I found myself standing in front of the long, two-story building with its porch and balcony that run from end to end. Folks sat in red rocking chairs, soaking in the relaxed pace of life in Port A.
I expected the smile I received when I stepped into the small lobby, but I did not expect the lobby’s decor. Covering the walls from the base of the windows to the ceiling are more than 7,000 tarpon scales, each signed and dated by a proud angler. In the early 1900s, these colossal fish were so plentiful that Port Aransas was nicknamed “Tarpon, Texas.” When a guest caught one, they noted the catch’s size and weight on a scale removed from the fish, then signed and pinned the silver-tipped trophy to the lobby wall.
I scanned the walls and found that most of the anglers were from Texas. Some scales recorded fish that were well over 6 feet long, while others bragged that the fish was caught using only “light tackle.” I found one scale safely behind glass and inscribed with the name Franklin D. Roosevelt, who traveled to Port Aransas in 1937 while serving his second term as president. During this trip he reeled in a 5-foot-1-inch, 77-pound tarpon and added its scale to the wall.
I walked out eager to see if there were any tarpons swimming in the nearby Gulf.
Chet Garner shares his Texplorations as the host of The Daytripper on PBS.