Friday, August 21, 2015

The Challenge of Monster Tarpon

As the silver beast slowly made his way into the deep abyss, I sat there in awe by the beauty and utter size of this magnificent creature.

"What just happened? Really, what the hell just happened?!" 

As anglers, we like a challenge. Think about it...even the beginner that buys a $20 setup at Walmart likes the challenge of catching a fish. It's much easier buying fresh fish to eat or spending the money on a "guaranteed" thrill. The challenge of fishing, whether big or small, is what consistently draws us back to the water time and time again.

When some anglers gain knowledge from experiences and the time they put in, they seemingly up the ante to the angling challenge. Speaking for myself, I've always wanted to "up my game" in the kayak fishing world. For example; I transitioned from fresh water to salt water, went from fishing protected bodies of water to the open ocean, and added the pursuit of larger species compared to being content on the species that I had dialed in.

Some call catching a tarpon from a kayak as a "bucket list" item. I originally said that but honestly, the idea of catching a tarpon out of my kayak is fairly new compared to others. I love challenges and always want a new one. That's what catching a monster tarpon out of kayak was for me...a new, yet daunting challenge!

My good friend and fishing partner, Marty Mood, and I had planned on going after these behemoths for some time now. We didn't waste the opportunity when our schedules finally aligned. We were armed with heavy artillery and a willingness to get the job done at all costs. The waters of Pensacola Florida welcomed us with open arms. Meticulously searching the surface finally yielded what we came there for. It didn't take long for Marty to yell, "FISH ON". Shortly after speaking his last word, a 100+ pound silver king explodes out of the water not 10 feet in front of me, almost landing in my kayak! WOW! From that point forward, the image of that monster tarpon was tattooed in the front of my memory bank. The fish ended up spitting the hook a few jumps later, but that moment fueled a newly lit fire.

It was on like Donkey Kong...I'm going to catch a tarpon!!!
I found myself going solo back to the same spot only a couple of days later. I couldn't stop thinking about these gigantic fish and the possibility of landing one from my kayak. Sight casting these fish at night, ALONE, and out of a kayak was by far the most challenging task I've yet to take on.
It didn't take long to make a cast on a monster, only to have the fish pay no attention. I saw another fish, only to have the same result. Instead of getting frustrated, I changed up the retrieve, that didn't work. I changed up the speed, that didn't work. I changed the depth of the lure, that didn't work. When I changed out to a different pattern...
Watching a monster tarpon follow his line, I waited to lead him with a perfect cast. The big soft plastic met his line of sight at the right time...BOOM, FISH ON! The sheer power of these fish is indescribable! My Old Town Predator 13 took off like a bat out of hell! When the huge tarpon jumped for the first time, my jawed dropped! 


The fish made run after run, jump after jump! 15 minutes or so go by and I finally see my leader with the emerging silver color in the beam of my head lamp. Finally, the fish is parallel with my kayak and I grab the leader. Knowing that if the fish makes a run that I won't be able to stop it, I grab the leader instead of wrapping my hand, good thing. As I grab the leader to gather the last two feet of line, he makes another run while soaking me in the process. Just as the line went tight, POP! My 80lb leader was cut like butter. My guess was it was wrapped in his gill plate when I went for the leader grab.

I tied on a new Tactical Anglers Clip to a fresh stretch of leader and went back at it. I already felt victory in my mind. Even though my hands were not locked on his jaws, I felt that I had won. At this point, I was as confident as anyone could be. Still respecting the power and size of these fish, I went right back it.

A few more fish showed themselves and showed no interest to my presentation. A perfect cast was the ticket on a fish that I previously threw at. FISH ON once again! This time the big tarpon made zig-zag runs in between the bridge and finally got the best of me. I opened the bail once I felt the line rub but it was too late. POP!

There is a reason that a big tarpon out of a kayak is considered tough. Even when you think you're in control, you're not! I regrouped and went back at it. This time I was towards the end of trip since it was so late. I continued standing up while scanning the surface. I finally saw another small group of huge fish. It only took one cast that ended up being The Cast.

My bait was slammed and in seconds a giant tarpon was shooting out of water! This time the fish headed away from the bridge only to double back and head right for it. I locked the drag of my Shimano Stradic 5000FJ to stay with the fish as best as I could. Once it cleared the other side of the bridge, it made a hard left and ripped a ton of line off as it doubled back once again. I could feel the line rub the pilings once again. Thinking to myself, Damn it not again, I opened my bail and pulled a ton of line out. I then paddled my butt off down two sets of pilings and slowly gathered my line back hoping to feel weight. I then saw my slack line traveling in between a piling set headed to the other side. Instead of putting the screws to the fish again, I gathered the line to stay on top of the fish, but not too piss him off. I one arm paddled with my Werner "Hooked" Cyprus about 100 feet with the fish away from the bridge. I engaged the reel and gave him hell once again. ROUND TWO...FIGHT!

Run after run, jump after jump, this fish was not giving up. After 18 minutes, I finally feel the fish swimming slowly as I pumped him up to the surface. He had one more jump with about 10 feet of line out. He was literally a couple of feet from hitting the Predator. After that jump, it was all she wrote. I grabbed the leader, and got my hand on the massive jaw.

Now the fun part...holding the jaw with one hand and setting up the picture with another. THANK GOD for the YakAttack Panfish Portrait! Without it, I wouldn't have been able to get the shot!

The pictures are not the greatest, but there was not much I could do. After the second picture, the hook came out and the fish shook out of my hands as I setup the third picture. I didn't care!
At the end of day I was left paddling back to the ramp yelling aimlessly with the feeling of accomplishment driven by pure adrenaline. I was still shaking for a couple of hours and could not go to sleep until the sun started to light the horizon.
"The newly found respect for that creature is something that I have for no other. I'm grateful for the opportunity to tangle with the silver king."
~See ya on the Water!
GEAR USED:Rods: Shimano Terez, 7' Med Hvy
Reels: Shimano Stradic 5000FJ
Line: 65lb Power Pro, 80lb leader
Lures: Big Soft Plastics
Kayak: Old Town Predator 13
Paddle: Werner Paddles 240cm "Hooked" Cyprus
Apparel: Kokatat Destination Paddling Trunks and Kokatat Lightweight Gloves
PFD: Kokatat Bahia Tour
Accessories: YakAttack Panfish Portrait, YakAttack GearTrac, YakAttack VisiCarbon Pro

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Second Shift Slammin'

"The draw to the salty surf grows with each sunrise over the white sandy beaches."

The move to second shift not only gives me a chance to work with a different group of guys, but also gives me the opportunity to sneak in an offshore quickie...SCORE! 

As the first period of red snapper season draws to a close, I made sure to take advantage of any chance to get in the gulf. 

I'm not just a fan of the tasty red snapper fillets. My wife loves the amazing sashimi and other dishes that I have created. It's a serious bonus when the Mrs is all about it!

The first day went everything but as planned!

Marty Mood and I hit a few spots that showed little to no life at all...odd!

The 4th spot that we hit looked like it was going to be a dud. We threw out a bunch of chunk bait and Marty hooks up. What I thought would have been a red snapper proved to be something else...

The skying mahi mahi was a very welcomed surprise! 

Who would have thunk it.

I'll be damned, the day is not going to be a bust after all! 

The last spot only coughed up this mahi, so it was time to return to a spot that we passed without fishing.

I was cutting up a small but legal king to use as chunk bait when something off of my port side caught my eye...

HOLY $#%@, MAHI!

After a quick flip with a chunk of mackerel, ROUND TWO!

Watching the amazing aerial display of my first mahi mahi instantly carved a smile in my grill that would not go away!

It's amazing to watch these fish turn colors in front of your eyes!

That day ended with zero snapper, but 2 nice mahi mahi...I'll take it!

On to the next...

Having to be at work at 3pm gave me a nice window to hit the water before work. I decided to hit a different location that provided red snapper earlier this year. When you know of a good spot, you don't have to waste time searching.

 My Humminbird 698 HD SI said my coordinate was just short of two miles away. No problem with my Old Town Predator 13!

On the way to the spot, the king mackerel would not turn down a cigar minnow tipped duster rig.

It didn't take long to get my 2 fish limit of kings while heading to my snapper spot.

 Once I arrived to the spot, I knew it was on like Donkey Kong!

Fish were suspended from 25-40 feet, OH YEAH!

A handful of chunks mixed with a herring tipped circle hook triggered a feeding frenzy...which included my chunk!

Fish number two followed suit! 

A quick limit of king mackerel and red snapper before work made the paddle back a hell of a lot nicer!

On to day 3!

A fast approaching storm left Marty Mood and I questioning our decision to continue on to the spot that proved to be loaded with red snapper. 

The end of the rainbow highlighting our destination gave us a sign to continue on...good thing we did!

We battled off and on wind and rain. Once we each caught our 2 fish limit of red snapper, we headed in. The wind got crappy making paddle back to the beach quite the chore!

Well, we closed the first period of snapper season the way you would hope. We caught our limits, saw a lot of fish, and had a ton of fun with plenty of laughs! The second period starts in September and runs through the end of October. 

This week I saw fish over 30", and make no mistake...


See ya on the water!


Rods: Shimano Tallus, All Pro Rods, Shimano Terez
Reels: Shimano Thunnus 6000 Ci4, Shimano Stradic FJ 3000 & 5000
Line: 50lb Power Pro, 50lb Seagar Fluorocarbon leader
Lures: Duster rigs w/ cigar minnows, and fresh caught herring/cigar minnows on 6/0-8/0 circle hooks
Kayak: Old Town Predator 13
Electronics: Humminbird 698 HD SI
Paddle: Werner Paddles 240cm "Hooked" Cyprus
PFD: Kokatat Bahia Tour
Accessories: YakAttack (GearTrac, Rod Holders, ScrewBall, Predator Mounting Plates, etc)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Decisions Decisions

The one down side to living in Navarre Florida is that it really tests the fisherman's decision making skills. I mean think about it...
How the hell does a guy decide between sight fishing redfish in skinny water, casting topwater for big trout, or venturing offshore for pelagics and reef dwellers?
 This puts an angler in a predicament...make a decision. Unlike work, school, or home, this is one decision you don't mind having to make.
First up was an after work session consisting of hitting a flat before the sun going down, then to dock lights under the cover of darkness. It didn't take long to get a slot redfish to crush a Spook Jr. in bone color.
Not long after the sun disappeared behind the trees, certain dock lights activated a vicious feeding frenzy. While approaching the first set of lights, you could hear the trout ambushing baitfish in between paddle strokes. The spotlight on the water consisted of baitfish skipping along the surface followed up with angry swirls breaking the silence. Catching a 20" trout on the first cast set the tone for the next 2 hours. Oh yeah!! 
23.75" on a PowerTeam Lures Swinging Hammer
Big fish of the night went 23.75". Catching 20 fish in less than 2 hours is an awesome way to decompress from work.
Now, it's time to hit the gulf!
The first trip out was a dud to say the least! A few bonita and a sweet sunburn was all I had to show for the first offshore trip of 2015. The dolphins must have felt bad because they put on a show for about 20 minutes. Normally I dislike dealing with dolphins but they acted like they were shaking their heads playing around with me.
The decision about where to fish on the next trip was easy.
It's red snapper season and the seas looked great!
Marty Mood, Benton Parrot, Elizabeth Saylor, her son Matt, Marty's neighbor, and I went out in full force after the "endangered" red snapper. The fish took a while to cooperate but we ended up getting on them. Cutting up the bonita and chunking him over the spot made the snapper rise up in hurry. They couldn't resist! 
We all caught fish and had a blast doing it!
 Catching a limit of red snapper and a king mackerel provided plenty of eats in the Bekolay house.
Smoked king mackerel

red snapper sashimi

The decision for next time around will be pretty easy as long as it's during snapper season.
See ya on the water!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Exploring New Flats

Life as a Florida resident has been everything I thought and hoped it would be!
The seafood is great, the people are great, the weather is great, and well...
the fishing is pretty damn amazing!
The downside of moving to a new location for the angler is pretty obvious.
All of the spots that you took the time to learn are a thing of the past...time to find new ones!
I do a lot of my homework on the internet when it comes to scouting.
For flats fishing, being able to read the bottom and surrounding areas can make a huge difference in finding fish!
I had a set of flats eyed up that I researched over the winter. Now it's time to find out what they're about!
Just as I had hoped, my topwater caught the attention of a pesky little flats fish.
Not a gator trout, but a fish none of the less.
I caught a few more smaller trout before I had a blow up of something bigger.
This fish missed the lure the first time, and I seen him come out of the water the second time as he
found his mark...
Mr. Psycho Redfish!
29" redfish

I was hoping for a big trout, but I'll take a little sleigh ride from a red any day!

It didn't take 10 more casts when I heard the ever-so-famous "roar" of a red blowing up on a topwater lure. Time for ride #2...

27.5" redfish

 I ended up with 3 reds between 27.5" and 29", and 6 trout up to 17.25"
Not too shabby for new grounds!
Until next time...
~See ya on the water!