Nick Halloran sent the internet on fire with the perfectly timed tarpon photo, and now we have the story from his incredible first-hand perspective.
Another summer Friday afternoon off work would soon turn into one that I’ll never forget. As I sat on my back patio, I noticed something. It was too nice out not be fishing. I quickly checked the tide and saw that it was dropping for the remainder of the day. After strapping my paddleboard to the top of my car, I headed to a local pass that’s known to be a conveyor belt of crabs. Per usual on an outgoing tide, it only took a few minutes before I had a bait bucket that looked like what would be a Halloween candy basket if a tarpon could go trick or treating. As the tide continued to crank, I packed up my car again and moved to the pass that I would target the tarpon at.
At this point, I had owned my paddle board for a couple weeks. Without the cash for a boat, but the desire to diversify my fishing, I dropped most of the cash I did have on my SUP. I had only caught one small snook on my board in the first two weeks of fishing on it. That of course, was well below my expectations. There was one fish I was determined to catch on it – a plus sized tarpon. With the month of July underway, I knew my time was limited before the seasonal tarpon moved along.
As my level of despair grew, it would be fitting for there to be a “Do Not Enter Water, High Bacteria Levels” sign at the only reasonable place to launch my SUP for this pass. I ignored the sign and began getting set up as someone who worked for the county advised me not to launch there. I told him I wasn’t too worried about it and went on my way. Little did I know that ignoring that warning was one of the best decisions of my life.
With the brunt of the outgoing tide approaching, I began my paddle around the corner and into the channel that marks the beginning of the intracoastal side of the pass. Something felt different about this fishing session. There was hardly a breeze, it was slightly overcast, and there was a ripping tide. Could the stars be aligning? As soon as I paddled over the edge of the channel’s drop off, two tarpon easily pushing 100 pounds, cruised under my board. My legs became unstable and it was that moment I realized – If I hook up with one of these prehistoric beasts, I would be in their world and the leash might as well be around my neck.
The channel runs north and south at this portion of the pass. With the outgoing tide and a minimal west breeze, it made for the perfect diagonal drift across the channel. After planning my drift, it was time to implement. Choosing one lucky crab from the bait bucket, I positioned myself for the drift and made my first cast about 30 feet in front of me.
With my rod in one hand and the other on my leaning rack, I carefully turned around to get my GoPro out of the rod holder. Halfway turned around, I felt a “thump” in my line. Before I could gather myself, a 130+ pound tarpon went dancing across the water and my drag began to scream.
That tarpon’s first jump crammed every feeling of comfort that I had right back down my throat. It was the first time I’ve ever felt uneasy on that SUP. The ensuing couple of minutes consisted of me trying to contain my excitement and appreciation for these beautiful fish. There’s something truly special about watching a fish exceeding 100 pounds launch itself completely out of the water and into a series of flips. My adrenaline increased with every acrobatic jump that she took. As I proceeded to document the fight on my GoPro, I repeatedly found myself in disbelief.
The entire time that I thought I was getting good documentation of the fight from my SUP, someone else happened to be snapping world class photos.
My only obstacle in the area was a set of docks with some large boats. I figured that if I could keep the fish away from them, then I’d be in the clear. It’s only fitting that it headed straight for them about 10 minutes into the fight. With no leverage from my SUP, all I could do was pray that it didn’t go under the dock or around a piling. Getting closer and closer, I found myself yelling at the fish to turn around. About 5 feet from the dock, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do if she went under.
Suddenly, she turned and began swimming back out for open water. Hallelujah! As the fish spun me around I noticed a man on the shoreline with a camera. Without thinking much of it, I gave him a shout and a wave.
Once the fish found the channel, it hunkered down and steadily took me on a ride. While treading along the channel of the pass, I was trying to steer the tarpon over to a grass flat to make it easier to land. She wasn’t having any of it and I accepted the fact that I was going to need to land it in open water. I looked back over my shoulder and noticed the man with the camera following me on land until he ran out of sea wall to walk on.
At this point it was just a matter of putting enough pressure on the fish to wear it out as quickly as possible. I had my XL bait bucket dragging behind me to help the cause. Unfortunately, time wasn’t really on my side. Southwest Florida around 4pm in July, one thing is certain – thunderstorms. Finally, with a squall of rain moving in from the south and finding myself about ¾ of a mile from where I hooked up, the tarpon began to become manageable. Still green, but manageable.
I sat down on my board and began trying to get a good hold of the fish.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy, and wasn’t going in my favor. My first attempt resulted in the tarpon jumping halfway out of the water and onto my board. Sliding its gill plate down my leg and taking some skin with it. After several minutes of wrestling, trying not to drop my dad’s rod, and keeping my balance – I got a hold of her and retrieved my hook.
After her and I smiled for the GoPro, I laid down on my board and supported her until she was ready to swim off. I’ve never felt so connected with a fish in my life. You truly grow a new appreciation for a fish that totally kicks your ass. My back hurt, my legs were killing me, and I couldn’t feel my shoulders. Once we were both done being revived, she swam off and I laid on my board in amazement.
As soon as I started my way back, I heard someone whistle at me from shore. I look over and see a familiar looking man – the guy with the camera! I paddled over and he introduced himself as Roger Ierardi. He told me that he had taken some photos of the fight and wanted to send them to me. Not expecting much, he began showing me some of the shots. Just when I thought the past hour of my life couldn’t get any better, this stranger calls me over and shows me that he documented the entire battle! You can’t make this stuff up.
I could have a photographer follow me around while I fish for the rest of my life and I’m certain that I would not be able to replicate the photos that Roger took. That’s what makes the story so great. People catch tarpon from paddleboards all the time. However, not many people have 3rd person photos to back up what could otherwise be another fish tail. At the end of the day it was a combination of luck, Roger’s photography skills, and good timing that got me the photos of a lifetime. Thanks Roger for taking the time to follow me and exchange information.
“I am an amateur photographer in Sarasota Fl. I was taking pictures of sailboats across the street from my condo when I saw this young man fishing on a stand-up paddle board. I could see that he had a big fish on so I started shooting pictures. I was shocked when I saw a six foot, 125 – 150 lb. Tarpon break water. While he was fighting the fish, it pulled him into the docks at the yacht club and back out. They continued south and I followed taking pictures for a half hour when I ran out of land. I figured the fish was headed for Big Pass. I got my car and drove to South Lido Park where from the beach I could see him. He had just released the tarpon after finally wearing it out to the point he could bring it to the board and remove the hook. I waved him ashore and we exchanged information. The event lasted an hour and covered a mile.” – Roger Ierardi