My First Tarpon In The Yak
By Zsolt Takacs (a.k.a. Hitman), Team Malibu Pro Staff
It was a Wednesday. It was rare that I awoke so easily in the summer, but today was different. It had a feel to it as if it was going to be a special day. I checked the weather, great news, loaded up the kayak and headed towards the unknown. I love the feeling that I get when I crank up the truck and the sun hasn’t shown itself to my part of the world. It is an adventurous feeling of stepping into a whole new day and a feeling that is not easily explained to the non-outdoorsman. I packed the heavy tackle because I was going after tarpon, a quarry which normally got the best of me. Brief synopsis of my life: I have spent countless hours over the last 7 years chasing the “Silver King”, with little to no results. I felt good today, it was the first time ever that I could actually target tarpon in my kayak and the little feeling inside my head was telling me that I would lock horns with some big boys. I drove off toward the first spot that I would stop. Kayak fishing from the beach, for me, is a little different than it probably is for everyone else. I stop at a place and if I do not see action or if I see a lot of boats, I move on. This is a process which I would soon find that sometimes can leave you getting up early, checking multiple spots, then going right back home and not fishing at all that day. It was not to be the case today.
I got to the first stop, coffee in hand, I walked down to the beach. The weather man lied, it was not 2 feet or less! It was at least 2-3 feet seas and the wind was blowing out of the south east, not hard, but enough. I was disgusted to say the least but I stood there watching. The sun started to peak over the rippling horizon, casting rays of light onto the frothy surf. That’s when I saw the first pogy pod. Right in front of me 30 yards away. Flip, flip, flip………boom!! The pogies erupted into a frenzy of froth and foam as a large creature made his way from one end of the school to the next. It wasn’t long before a second and third explosion shook the cup of coffee from my hand and sent me racing back toward my truck. It was on! I did not care what kind of fish were hunting in that pod but they were now becoming the hunted.
Trembling with excitement, I wheeled my kayak toward the seashore. It would be a semi- rough paddle out past the breakers but once I managed to get past the breakers I could concentrate on that bait school. Where did it go? There it is. It was moving south, without haste. I made it past the breakers with relative ease and now had to catch up to the south bound pogies. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. Excitement was overshadowing the fact that I was in the ocean, all by myself, 100 yards from shore, probably traveling to some very large sharks. Who does this? This is so stupid. It would take days for someone to find my floating bloated body, not to mention the fact that it was a weekday, no one is fishing. Just as I was convincing myself to turn around, a large silver body rolled 3 feet from my kayak. All fears dissipated. I paddled even harder to close the distance between me and glory. As I paddled, the sounds of the pogies getting run through, became louder.
For anyone who has not witnessed or heard the glorious sounds of pogies wadded up and being run through, it sounds the same as a hard rain on water would sound, only concentrated to one 30 square yard area. I was now in the thick of them. I could see there little heads moving back and forth, there were thousands of them. Mesmerized by the vastness of their numbers, I almost forgot why I was there. Then jumping in fear, I almost flipped the kayak. A large tarpon thrust himself out of the water, mouth agape, flipping close enough to spray me almost as if to say “Game on”. Oh yes! It is on! I gathered my composure and laughed to myself in a giddy kind of way, I was the only one out there and I found tarpon.
It was one explosion after the next in this pogy school as I paddled to keep up with them. Sometimes the tarpon would totally leave the water, sometimes they would just roll. I was in heaven. I was sure to catch a tarpon today, I knew it. What I had not figured was the abuse that I was just about to take.
I gathered up the courage and got ready to do battle with one of nature’s fiercest competitors. I have fought and caught a lot of large fish in my day, it is my passion, but very few fish pump up my adrenaline like tarpon. They were at the time my white whale. Like a bow hunter that sees a trophy buck just out of his range, I had to wait. Adrenaline pumping through my body, I cast my snatch hook into the pogies. Wait……wait….bdump bdump, snatch. Hooked up. I reel frivolously and in comes a pogy, sideways. Quickly switching the bait to the larger of rods(40 lb test), I threaded the circle hook through the pogy’s eyes. It was about 7:45am when I threw that pogy back into the school from which it came. Anticipation raced like ice through my veins. Any moment now my drag would be screaming. I waited. Tarpon continued to bust all around me. The pod of pogies was still moving south. I continued my pursuit, reeling in the pogy and paddling until I had passed the pogies then with the same anticipation I would cast and wait. Nothing! Just my luck I thought. Maybe I was in my own personal "fishing Hades".
I noticed that the tarpon, although paying me no mind, had split the pogy pod into three sections. What tactics were these? At least 8 different tarpon were working these schools now and every once in a while I would see another rolling just outside as if he were heading towards the fray. How many tarpon were coming? How many were here? How long did I have before they were going to leave me, without catching one yet again? I moved over to one of the smaller separated groups. My pogy, exhausted from the constant casting, showed little signs of life as I pitched him into the 10 square foot pod. 8:00am: Well, it wouldn’t be long now until I had to reposition myself again. Then it happened. All hell broke loose. My line started to scream off of the drag so fast I almost forgot that I had it in free spool. I did not hesitate and flipped it into gear. This appeared to anger the beast as he leapt into the air, just feet from where I was sitting. I was at sea level, seated and the giant silver creature was well above my head. The tarpon sent a wall of water in all directions as I watched in awe. Then decided he wanted to go south, I was going with him. My drag screaming, line peeling from my reel, I had a thought. If I put a sea anchor out it will slow him down.
You guys ever have an idea that seems good at the time, but hindsight proves it to be one of the worst things that you could do? Yeah, well that was mine. Holding the rod in one hand I tried to slow the massive fish by reaching around and tossing out a sea anchor that was from my old 23 ft center console boat. The only thing that stopped was my kayak. Line was now pouring out of my reel. I had to get that sea anchor in and get it in now. The tarpon had slowed and started to turn towards open water. Here was my chance. With the rod cradled in my bent elbow, I started to pull in the sea anchor. As I did this, I realized that the line was touching my bicep. If this fish decides to run…….too late. A screaming run burns the line deep into my bicep. Yelling all kinds of obscenities I quickly grabbed the rod with both hands, sending the sea anchor back out into the water. Son of a…..that hurt. It was so deep and so burnt that it didn’t bleed. That is going to leave a mark. Now my line was almost gone. I had to get that sea anchor in. With all my might and a quickly as I could I heaved that sea anchor in, carefully positioning the rod as to where the line was not in contact with my body. It worked. I then threw the sea anchor somewhere in the back of the kayak hoping to never see it again. The battle to gain my line was now in full throttle. I pumped and reeled for almost what seemed to be an eternity. 10:00am: about 2 miles south of where I had originally put in, the tarpon rolled less than 10 feet from my kayak. He was still heading south and I was still at his mercy. Please come to the boat, I was finished. My arms and back were screaming and I had what I can only explain as GI Joe kung-fu grip-itis. Just as I was about to throw my rod into the water the tarpon finally succumbed to the battle. The way that you can tell when a tarpon is done, I found this out after many encounters over the summer, is that they release air, defecate and then come willingly to the surface. Well I think that I had released my bowels about an hour ago, but being that I was not in control and he didn’t know how to release me, I just went along for the ride.
Wow, so here he is laying broadside. I have to act quickly or else he would die. Nothing would taint this victory more than to see this magnificent creature sink slowly to the bottom. It took all the strength in my body to grapple his lower lip and revive him. Finally he started to move all 140 lbs of his muscular body, then shake, he righted himself and swam away. I was re-energized. Where was that pogy school? Better yet where the heck was I? Flip…Flip…..Boom. There it is. It is now 10:30am and here comes another pogy school loaded with tarpon. My arms and back were tired but I think that I could do that again, maybe just once more. I got out my light snatch hook rod, money. I cast the pogy back into the school and almost immediately hooked back up. 1.5 miles further south I released my second tarpon of the day.
Whipped and having a long paddle back I decided that I should just beach my yak and walk the distance. I didn’t. I paddled forever to get within a mile from my landing. I never saw another pogy school until now. I was whipped and sore. So I did what any good fisherman would do. I snatched another pogy. It was about 1pm now. As I was bringing the pogy to the boat, a 6 foot shark followed the pogy to the boat. “Alright, I can play with you brother, just let me get my bigger rod.” By the time I switched the pogy over that pod was headed south, I wasn’t chasing it either. But here comes another, hey there is something large and brown in there. It’s a cobia, a big one too. My pogy didn’t even touch the water and he was on it. 53.2lbs to be exact. No cooler, no gaff, no way to land him sitting down. But that is another story.