Donny Miley
Donny Miley caught this tarpon on Florida’s Forgotten Coast.

After weeks of rain I finally got the weather I was looking for. I made a few calls and looked at the clock. Why is it, time goes so slow, when you want to be somewhere else? It must have been completely obvious that I was getting anxious to leave that he shop manager gave me the green light an hour early. A few calls later and I was on the road to meet up with a few of my friends. We  were heading to Turkey Point Shoal to put some tarpon in the air! For those of you not familiar with the Forgotten Coast, the shoal acts as a funnel for migrating tarpon heading from east to west. Its about a two mile peddle from our launch site. As we launched our kayaks we noticed a few fish rolling, but not nearly as many as we expected.

So, on we went till finally we reached the bar. We spent a few minutes checking the current and tossed our anchors. Within minutes we knew we were in a great spot. The combination of glassy water and white sand made the tarpon extremely visible. We watched in awe as pod after pod cruised by while we were busy catching bait. Go figure, right? I just knew that we had missed our chance. Finally, after thirty minutes we had a few pinfish and grunts to toss out.  I was hooked up almost instantly and dumped my anchor just as the fish jumped! As the fish cleared the air my bubble burst. It was a four foot spinner shark. I landed the fish and repeated the process over and over again. As the sun set and sky turned orange, doubt flooded my mind. Not only was it getting darker by the second but the tide was falling. Soon the worsening conditions would push us off the bar and force us to head home. I stood up and peered into the water like a hungry osprey looking for any sign fish.

Finally, a pod was coming straight for us! as they neared I turned back around to reel in my bait and pitch it in to the school of fish. Just then my cork went under and I was hooked up! As I drove the hook in the fish jumped. This was the one I was looking for! Its silver scales reflecting the beauty of the setting suns rays. I could hear its gills rattle as he hit the water. I dumped my anchor and was at the fishes mercy. As I held on for dear life while still trying to direct the fish to the channel and away from the other boats, I realized that he wasn’t even pulling drag. He was pulling my PA 12 like it was no big deal. That’s when I knew I was going to need help. I yelled to one of my friends who was trying to video the fight. He came over and grabbed the back of my boat to create more drag on the fish. By this time we were nearly a quarter mile from the shoal. To our disbelief the tarpon pulled both kayaks with ease. That’s when we decided that the only way to put more drag on the fish would be to turn his kayak sideways while holding on to the back of mine forming a T. Well, it worked and soon the tarpon showed signs of tiring and was starting to swim around my kayak. As he got closer I was on my own again, he circled my kayak what seemed like a million times. Every circle would get smaller and smaller. Soon I would have a decision to make. Did I want to boat the fish or cut the leader? Once I made up my mind that this fish was in good enough shape for a little photo session I grabbed the leader. The real fight had just begun. As I tried to leader the fish close enough to get a hand in his mouth he went under my boat. Lucky for me I was wearing my Tailin’ Toads gloves or I would have had a major gash in my hand from the line. As I got the fish under control I started to get a few wraps on the leader and managed to get my had in his mouth. I was actually going to get a hero shot with this beast!

After a very quick photo session I began to revive the beast. My mirage drive helped immensely with this process. I held onto his gaping maw as I peddled around pushing water threw his gills. I watched the color in his face starting to return and without a single warning he jumped. My hand was still in his mouth! It took me a second to realize he was good and I need to let go before he pulled me out of the kayak. As I released the death grip on his jaw he swam away. What a great feeling it was to watch such a magnificent fish swim away unscathed. As we headed back we all talked about the epic battle that had taken place. I knew that planes for a future trip were soon to follow,but for no our minds were focused on getting back to the ramp and heading home. My body was exhausted and I was in need of some well earned sleep.

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Ric Burnley
“Thank God my dad wasn’t a podiatrist,” jokes Ric about following in the footsteps of a famous outdoor writer. After graduating from Radford University and serving two years in Russia with the Peace Corps, Ric returned to Virginia Beach and started writing for The Fisherman magazine, where his dad was editor. When the kayak fishing scene exploded, Ric was among the first to get onboard. His 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman is one of the first tomes to introduce anglers to paddle fishing and hundreds of articles and seminars have brought countless anglers into the fold. When he’s not chasing every fish that swims, Ric teaches English at a school for at-risk teens.


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