The afternoon was perfect as several of us from the Boca Beacon crew set out from Whidden’s Marina in the Jill Marie with Capt. Dave Chatham and his worthy first mate, Jill Chatham. Editor Marcy Shortuse, writer Sue Erwin, graphic designer Christine Cunningham, ad representatives Julianne Greenberg and Caroline Clabaugh and office manager Karen Clark were the lucky ones aboard, and after a six-hour tour they had a three for six tarpon record.
One of the ladies on the boat, Sue, had never been tarpon fishing before (yes, she was a “virgin.”) Not only was she lucky enough to catch and release her first silver king, but what a noble fight it was. Here is her story.
By Sue Erwin
Working at the Boca Beacon certainly has its privileges, and I’m thankful for that every day.
And luckily, the extent of some of those opportunities can create life-long memories.
On Tuesday, April 19, 2016, I got to experience an exhilarating thrill for the first time: hooking, reeling and releasing an 85-pound silver king fish in Boca Grande Pass, the tarpon capital of the world.
It was so exhilarating that I had to write about what it felt like to become a new tarpon tamer the moment I got home – even though it was after 11 p.m. That’s how writers roll.
The calm, trusting demeanor of Capt. Dave Chatham of , along with a crash course lesson from his wonderful wife and first mate, Jill, gave me the confidence that I might be able to hook one of these powerful silver beauties and bring it to the boat.
As I let my line out 40 feet and then dropped it to 60 feet beneath the boat, I felt the subtle tugging and struggling of my bait: a feisty squirrelfish. Hooked to the end of my line, it swam for the safety of the bottom of the pass, where it would energetically try to burrow itself into the sand, its best chance for survival. I am sure it was frantic as it swam amongst a 20-foot stretch of tarpon rolling near the boat.
One small tug. Then another. Then nothing. That’s all I got for the first cast. The squirrelfish would be returned to the bait bucket, carefully released by Jill, to heal and live another day. It would be brought back to a local bait tank to be fed and cared for, eventually making it out for another trip and another test of survival in the Pass.
As the Boca Beacon team members each took turns dropping a line in the water, we all waited patiently for that first enthusiastic call of “fish on!”
About 40 minutes passed, and it was time for me to take a seat at the back of the boat again and drop a line. This time, Jill thought we should give the live shrimp bait a try. Several minutes later, still no nibbles.
Noticing a large school of tarpon that were swimming closer to the boat, Capt. Dave told Jill to put a squirrelfish back on the hook.
Keeping a close eye on the end of my reel while watching a beautiful sunset was exceptionally relaxing.
And then it hit. One little tug … one big tug. I grasped the rod and followed the instructions from my superior captain.
“Hold it low … you’ve got a fish on there,” he said.
I remained calm and did exactly what he said.
He thrust the motor forward and I held the rod tight. We were taking this fish for a ride.
Capt. Dave pilot the boat at a decent speed for about 20 or 30 yards. And then there was a little slack in the line, so I knew I had to go to work. Pulling the rod back and up into the air and shifting down toward the water as I reeled in, I knew after ten minutes this was only the beginning of the fight.
I watched as the silver beauty took air and jumped several feet above the surface time and time again, adamantly refusing to come close to the boat, possibly capable of pulling me into the water and taking me for a dip.
Another five minutes had passed, and although my left wrist was beginning to shake, I could barely acknowledge it, because I was determined to see this gorgeous creature up close and in person.
I calmly kept on reeling, pulling, reeling … repeat.
The fish flipped and turned with what I’m sure was all of its might, splashing water into the rear of the boat, nearly drenching me until I was covered with salt water.
Then Capt. Dave grabbed the line to bring it in closer, and with a quick jerk of its head, left and right, back and forth several times, he freed the fish from the hook and line. It would have the liberty to live another day and feast on the smorgasbord of creatures living in the Pass. Possibly to be later hooked again, and hopefully quickly and safely released, so another first-time tarpon angler would have an amazing story to share with friends and family.