Suede and I decided sometime last week that we wanted to hit the beach again searching for tarpon. This time around we would be solely concentrating on getting him into an epic battle with one of these leviathans. We picked Tuesday as the day to do it based on the winds and the fact that I would be working every other night.
I loaded all of my gear and my kayak into the truck on Monday evening and drove to work. After getting off of work at 6:30 am I drove straight to Suede’s house and picked him up. We knew we would be getting a late start, but that was ok because we were pretty sure we knew where to find the fish. After driving to Suede’s, loading his gear, grabbing some food, and driving to the beach it was 8:30 am.
The beach was a pleasant surprise when we got there, no wind, no surf, and no swells. This was going to be the easiest surf launch of the summer thus far. After launching, I noticed that the water clarity was much better than normal, the best I had ever seen at this particular beach. When my depth sounder was reading just over 25 feet deep I could look over the side of my yak and easily count the ripples on the sandy bottom. The color of the water was a spectacular turquoise blue. What was immediately apparent in the ultra-clear water was the abundance of sharks, all kinds. There were black-tips, spinners, sharpnose, bulls, lemons, and several that I couldn’t positively identify. The sharks ranged in size from 2 feet all the way up to 8 feet, there were also a few larger specimens mixed in. A few sharks were not going to stop us from catching some fish, so we continued on.
After launching Reeltime and several other OKFC members were visible in the distance to the south. We planned to catch some bait and meet up with them. The catching bait part proved more difficult than usual. There were no visible bait pods, so out came the sabiki’s. The only small fish we seemed to be able to hook on sabiki rigs were silver trout in the 12”-14” range, no croakers, pinfish, or pigfish were to be found. Another problem we were encountering was the sharks. They were able to pick up on a hooked trout from a long ways off and would take the whole sabiki rig if you did not horse the bait to the boat; I lost 2 rigs pretty quickly. We kept a few of the trout for bait knowing they would be marginal for catching tarpon.
About the time we found Reeltime we also started seeing tarpon. Casting to the tarpon was not working because the sharks would immediately charge the live bait and either cut the line or hook-up, neither was desirable. I tried casting some artificials but the tarpon would just ignore it. I was able to see the tarpon cruising below my kayak so I dropped a silver trout down on light line to see if I could get the tarpons attention, pulling the bait away if a shark approached. The trout was not cooperating; it would turn upside down and play dead anytime a fish approached. After a few minutes one tarpon took interest and gently mouthed the bait, pulling it from the hook. Both of us realized that we needed better bait.
We parted ways from Reeltime and paddled several miles south stopping here and there to fish for bait. While we paddled we trolled some diving plugs and stingers hoping for a kingfish. All we seemed to be able to attract were very large sharks; we hooked several in the 7 foot plus range. I even had a large bull shark that was easily 7 feet long rise up and take my plug while it floated motionless as I fished for bait. Finally after a long paddle we were able to put some croakers into the live-well.
The tarpon we had seen seemed to be holding in a very specific area, a 35 foot deep trough running parallel to the beach between two 25 foot high ridges. The trough ranged from ½ a mile from shore to ¾ mile from shore. We started paddling the trough and immediately saw a tarpon roll north of us. Our game plan was to drop the croakers straight down over the tarpon once we could see them below our yaks, and only when there were no sharks in sight. We paddled towards the area where we saw the tarpon roll and my depth sounder screen lit up with large objects. A look over the side of the kayak revealed a couple dozen tarpon in the 70 pound to120 pound class lazily swimming 15 feet directly below me. I opted to bait my light 20 pound class kingfish rod knowing full well I would never land a fish; I just wanted to fight one on the light rod for a while. Suede was using an 8000 Battle spooled with 80 pound Power-Pro and an 80 pound fluorocarbon leader, fully intent on landing a tarpon.
I took my croaker out of the live-well and dropped it straight down over the pod of tarpon. The croaker made a futile attempt to swim away from the pod but a large tarpon rose from the school and inhaled the bite size fish. I set the hook and line started coming off of my reel. The fish didn’t make the usual instant jump; it just took off straight east. Within a few seconds I hear Suede’s drag screaming and one of the giants energetically leaped from the water just feet from my kayak. We had just doubled up on tarpon and complete chaos was enveloping the scene. The fish were running in separate directions threatening to tangle the lines and ruin either of our chances at landing one. Since Suede had a much better chance of landing his, I thumbed the spool and broke my fish off. I could now concentrate my efforts on assisting Suede and getting good video and pictures.
For the first fifteen minutes of the fight a bull shark in the 8 foot range was following closely behind us. The shark was swimming with both his dorsal fin and tail precariously protruding from the water like something from a movie. I was nervous the shark was going to attack the tarpon leaving a bloody stump attached the line. Thankfully the shark tired of following us and disappeared. It took Suede around 35 minutes to wear the fish down and the only jump we got was the initial jump after setting the hook. After a few pictures we revived the fish and sent it on its way.
On the way back to the truck we spotted a large sea turtle in front of us. Hoping it had a cobia shadowing it I casted a cobia jig (I almost always have a cobia jig ready when I’m at the beach) just behind it and let it sink. Quickly I see a silver flash below the turtle. When I attempt to come tight on my jig I realize the 40 pound line has been cut without so much as a twitch. All I can think it could have been was a hungry barracuda or kingfish. We continued to the beach and loaded our kayaks on the truck feeling pretty good about our day on the water. Considering the conditions and the plentiful marine life we encountered I considered our day on the water to be above average in terms of enjoyment.
As always a video is in the works and will be posted shortly