People ask me about the biggest fish I’ve ever caught, and it always brings me back to one of the first times I had my Boston Whaler 150 Montauk out on the water. It was the end of summer, and we were trying for late season tarpon at the Egmont Key “Hole” off of the coast of Ft. Desoto, adjacent to the Tampa Bay shipping channel.
What makes this area unique are the vastly different water depths on all sides of the island, ranging from less than a foot to 100-plus feet deep as the sandbar drops off into the channel referred to as the “Egmont Hole.” As the outgoing tide begins, the crustaceans and small fish are whisked from their safe haven in the bay through this channel and out to sea. The predators in the area — tarpon, mackerel, and sharks for example — circle Egmont Key waiting for the buffet that comes with the current.
My friend and I spent an hour catching about two dozen threadfin herring for bait, which are like candy to tarpon. We motored my Whaler over the Hole and let our baits out, keeping our bails open so the threadfin were free to swim down into the dark water of the shipping channel. As our boat and baits drifted with the current, one of the reels started singing at a rate that only meant one thing — a big fish.
I reeled in the other rod as fast as I could and let it rest on the bow with the threadfin frantically flopping around on the deck. The line from my friend’s reel was being pulled out so fast that the green dye on the braided line was coming off on his hand. “It’s got to be a 200-pound tarpon!” my friend shouted. He moved to the front of the bow, and I started the engine to take off after this monster. As we began to chase the fish and the reel was almost spooled, the behemoth made himself known. A massive shark rocketed out of the water, completely airborne. A large splash followed, and the line went slack. It was gone.
Beaten, we sat down to let everything sink in. “Was that a Great White?” I asked jokingly, although they’ve been known to frequent these waters. “I don’t know, but we’ll sure as hell tell everyone it was,” he responded. Although it was likely a large spinner shark, it felt 20 feet long as we were chasing it down. It was during that experience that I felt secure about my Whaler — because no matter what happened with the shark, I knew I wasn’t going to sink.
— Rob Bowman