Reeling In A Feisty Tarpon

An angling adventure unites father and son in a “bucket list” moment.

The sun was a warm, golden orb barely above the horizon, a dim light on a perfectly calm ocean, as the thin clouds acted as gauzy curtains. Around us, tarpon boiled everywhere, with an occasional slurp confirming that they were feeding on the “guppies,” as Capt. Peter called them.  

Capt. Peter explained earlier that when the water was really hot, the small fish living in the shallows off the deep channels would suffer oxygen deprivation and come to the surface for air, making them an easy target for the hungry tarpon.  

My son, Caleb, and I had been here with Capt. Peter the morning before to no avail. But as Caleb made his first cast this day, it was game on! Setting the hook sideways, “because their mouth points up,” just as Capt. Peter had directed in his raspy British accent, Caleb’s rod bent double and the drag screamed in protest. 

The fish then launched a series of acrobatic aerial displays that were awesome to behold.

A couple more searing runs were followed by pulling the boat in a circle, only to make a couple of dazzling jumps right beside the boat.

Caleb and the fish were both tired now, and as he worked the fish near the skiff, Peter donned a glove and remarked, “He’s not going to like this,” as he grabbed the tarpon by the lower jaw. As predicted, the tarpon thrashed and bolted away. Caleb groaned. 

“Bloody lucky he’s not real big, or you’d be doing this for another hour or two,” Peter said with a raspy laugh. At 25 minutes into the fight, Capt. Peter successfully lipped the tarpon, removed the hook and let Caleb hold him for the pic. Revived shortly thereafter, the 60-pound tarpon swam off lazily, and we had accomplished our mission — getting Caleb his first tarpon!

You see, Caleb has fished with me since he could walk, and has mated hundreds of hours for me on my charter boats.

He has seen many tarpon here in the Lowcountry as a crewman, but never as an angler. 

It was a bucket list item for a 17-year-old and is now a cherished memory for a proud dad. Watching him skillfully battle that tarpon brought home years of learning that culminated with a great angler and an awesome fish battling it out. By any measure, that’s a priceless experience.

P.S. – If you ever head to Key West, give me a call. I know a guy!

By Miles Altman, Bayrunner Fishing Charters

Capt. Miles Altman of Bayrunner Fishing Charters has more than 42 years experience fishing the waters surrounding Hilton Head Island. The Finatic boat, which can accommodate up to 12 passengers, features a special three-hour shark/dolphin eco-tour trip. Contact Miles at 843-290-6955 to book an unforgettable inshore or offshore charter fishing trip, departing from Shelter Cove Marina.