By Capt. Kevin Dieter and John Radkins
My phone rang right after dinner. Captain Kevin Deiter’s name popped up on the ID. “Want to go for tarpon in the morning?”
Duh. I had more things to do tomorrow than I could count, but all work and no play will make anyone dull. There was only one answer; what time and where.
Dave Raymond and I had been hitting the sales bricks hard for the last few days and an early morning of pitching baits to monsters on the beach seemed like the ideal way convince us that putting out a fishing magazine really is a glamorous job.
We got to Marine Max in Venice, FL a bit early, but a few minutes early is way better than being late, especially when one of the area’s premier beach tarpon captains invites you out for a fun day. Kevin, who owns and operates Feeding Frenzy Sportfishing Academy, was just finishing up getting his 22’ Mako ready. Last to load up were our important companions; a dozen frisky crabs.
Our days have been nice and warm, but this early in the season it still gets a bit chilly overnight. The sun was just cracking the horizon as we started the run south from the Venice Jetty and I was really glad to have brought a fleece jacket along. Ten minutes later I was wishing I had thrown my beat up old khaki fishing pants in the bag as well.
When we stopped south of Caspersen Beach the water was flat, a very gentle east wind was blowing and there wasn’t another boat to be seen setting up. If there is a better way to spend the early daylight hours than on the water with friends, I haven’t found it yet. Peaceful, meditative and soothing are all adjectives that come to mind. Yeah, Kumbayah and all that. But today we were looking for less calming activities. Explosive you might say.
With Dave looking north, me looking south and Kevin getting a couple of rods set up we spent some time waiting for big fish on the move. Bait was everywhere and with Spanish macks blowing up near and far, my first tarpon trip of the year nerves had me making little fish big. If you’ve fished beach tarpon, you know how it is; you hope they will be there and hungry but you also know it could just be a morning of frustration. Sometimes, few or no fish and other times fish everywhere, but all with lockjaw.
We started seeing singles and pairs breaking the surface out of casting distance. Come on fishies, get closer!
Then, here come the big silver minnows. I turned when I heard Kevin say “I spy poonage!” At least 20 fish on the surface at any given time were moving slowly north. As they approached casting distance, another smaller group moving off the beach merged with the first. I cast out and within 20 seconds I was hit and spit. Kevin tossed his crab out and was hooked up just as fast. He handed me the rod and by the end of the initial jumps and the first reel screaming run I knew why he passed it off; this was a big, strong fish.
By the end of 25 minutes I was puffing like I’d run a marathon, wishing I had a bit of the cool air from the early morning run and thinking some unkind thoughts about my friend Kevin. He had leadered the fish 3 or 4 times, but she kept gulping air and I could not get her to roll over. It was up for grabs as to who was going to win. Eventually the fish came in and we got some quick shots in the water courtesy of John Jernigan who had motored up with his camera during the fight (Thank you sir!) and Dave idled us off to revive the fish. I am not a great judge of tarpon weights, but Kevin said it was an easy 150 pounds.
Dave Raymond was next up. He hooked up with an even bigger fish that gave some truly amazing jumps. How can fish that big get so far out of the water? Either this one tired more easily or Dave is a manlier man than I because he had the 180 +/- pound fish to the boat in 15 minutes. But when Kevin grabbed the leader the fish bolted and broke the circle hook just below the barb and swam away happy. Aw hell, if the hook hadn’t broken Dave would probably still be trying to bring that freaking monster in. Biggest tarpon I’ve ever seen hooked up.
I boated one more around 100 pounds, then Kevin put on a clinic in tarpon whupping for Dave and me. He hooked up with a 75 pounder and proceeded to bring the fish to boatside in just over 5 minutes. I guess practice makes perfect.
It was about noon when the wind shifted 180 to the west, the water was getting a little snotty and the ‘poons disappeared. We got the boat in shape with everything in its place and as Kevin was pulling up the trolling motor he said “Oh man…” Another pod was making towards us from the south. We looked at each other and decided we’d had an outstanding day. Leave those for next time.
Thanks Kevin. Call me anytime, day or night. Seriously.
John Radkins is the owner and publisher of the Sarasota/Bradenton/Englewood edition of Coastal Angler Magazine.