“No no no NO! Oh my GOD!”
I felt absolutely sick to my stomach. I wanted to scream. What my poor eyes had just witnessed was beyond comprehension for a few moments. I was fishing in the Gulf off of Cape San Blas near Port St. Joe Florida in my kayak and was busy catching live bait with a Sabiki rig. I had caught a perfect sized Bluerunner and set about hooking it on my bigger rod to catch King Mackerel. My dad and I had seen King jumping all morning, so I had high hopes that this day would be the day I finally landed one in the yak. Thanks to the wind, I was slowly drifting farther and farther offshore and I put my King rod in the rod holder with the live Bluerunner so it could be dragged behind my drift. My bait catching rod was laying in my lap with only 2 feet of the Sabiki rig dangling in the water next to the kayak. Suddenly, something grabbed the Sabiki rig while I was messing with the King rod and with a quick jerk, sent my Shimano rod and reel into the Gulf and disappearing into the milky green water forever. I had no time to react.
Speechless. I couldn’t even think of a good enough curse word to fit the situation. I just sat there in silence as I looked into the deep green water where my rod and reel was being dragged around somewhere below by a spanish or baitfish. I turned the yak around, and paddled back closer to shore after a shark stole my blue runner. I honestly just wanted to leave. Just go back to the motel, go to sleep, and try it again later that day. My dad, however, convinced me not to, and boy was I thankful for that.
We started floating frozen cigar minnows behind the kayak with balloons in hopes of catching a King. It wasn’t long, however, that we both started pulling in sharks. Lots of sharks.
My dad soon gave up on floating balloons and started slow trolling the cigs. Almost immediately my dad was hooked up and I heard him say what I thought was “King!”. Turns out I was hearing the tail end of a common four letter word that is often turned into an adjective because my dad had hooked another shark. Regardless, I took my balloon off the line because I too wanted to catch a King. I cast my cig out behind the boat, and began paddling closer to my dad. Within just a few seconds, my rod was doubled over and the line was screaming. I couldn’t turn around fast enough but I noticed some HUGE jump behind the boat. All I caught was the end of the splash. I finally wrestled the rod from the rod holder behind me, set the hook, and noticed that I was being spooled quickly. I tightened the drag, and the fish’s run stopped. What happened next was a shock. A big tarpon jumped right in front of me!
“I got a tarpon!!”, I yelled at my dad as I began my (soon to be) two mile Tibetan sleigh ride. I could tell it was a big fish just by how quickly I was being dragged offshore. My dad started to follow me and at one point, he couldn’t paddle fast enough to keep up with my ride. After a few minutes, I tried to back the drag down a little bit on the old Shimano 650 Baitrunner, but to my dismay, the drag began to fail. I had to grab the top of the reel in order to keep the fish from just swimming off. I played with the drag a little more and finally settled it out WAY higher than it should have been. The fish almost couldn’t take any line out and I was nearly herniating myself every time it -should- have taken out line.
After a 20 minute, two mile fight, I got the fish close enough to the kayak that I could now see it. It fought under the boat for a few more minutes and even rammed the bottom of the kayak hard enough that it lifted the bow up. I soon lip gaffed it, dropped the lip gaff from the fish going crazy, regained control of the gaff, and pulled the fish’s head into the boat.
After unhooking it, I set about trying to revive it. It took only a few minutes before the fish had enough strength to swim on its own and I let it go into the murky green water. It was an absolutely awesome experience and one that I kinda hope to never have again. I’ve caught big 150+lb tarpon from a power boat before as well as 30lb’rs from the kayak. But this fish beat me to pieces. The rod butt bruised both my abs and groin muscles and I thought I’d never make it back to shore with my sore arms. I actually think that instead of reeling the fish in, I just pulled myself to the fish the whole fight. But at the end of the day, the fish helped me shake off losing the rod and reel and definitely made my trip. A big thanks to my dad for not only paddling out with me to take the picture, but also raging at the sharks and inadvertently tipping me off for the right tarpon set up. Hopefully, if this ever happens again, I’ll have that helmet camera and be able to catch the whole thing on film.