Jolly Roger Pier in Topsail Beach was the site of a flurry of tarpon activity last weekend as the silver kings chased mullet along beaches. The largest fish came on Sunday, Aug. 30, when Justin Avery of Creedmoor decked a tarpon that measured 78 ½ inches long with a girth of 35 5/8 inches. The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust weight calculator estimated the fish at 156 pounds.
Avery, who had hooked and lost a tarpon on Saturday, came back Sunday with full intentions of redemption. Although technically pin-rigging for king mackerel, he admits that a tarpon was his target.
“In the back of my mind, I wanted one some kind of bad,” he said, “I’ve always wanted to catch one.”
At 5:40 Sunday afternoon, Avery got his second chance.
“I was standing by my rod; I had a bluefish on for bait when I saw the tarpon roll up on his side and suck the bluefish right into his mouth,” Avery said. “He didn’t know he was hooked. I was on the north corner of the pier, and he just started easing off to the right through the other rigs. Finally, the line came tight, and I set the hooks in him real good. That’s when he came out of the water.”
Avery held on for dear life as the fish pulled drag and jumped repeatedly for the next hour-and-a-half.
“Finally, I got him back to the pier,” he said. “Luckily they have a huge drop net on the Jolly Roger just for tarpon and releasing sharks. The hardest part was getting him over the railing. If it wasn’t for my buddies, we would have never landed the fish.”
After a few pictures and a quick measurement, Avery chose to lower the tarpon back to the water and release it, rather than risk its life on the way to the scales.
“I thought the fish was close to the pier record, but I didn’t want to kill it. After an hour-and-a-half, we were both exhausted. That’s the fish of a lifetime, regardless.”
Avery’s rod was spooled with a 25-pound monofilament, with an 8-foot leader of 44-pound wire. The business end held two No. 2 Owner hooks and a No. 4 Owner treble hook as a trailer. Avery prefers to rig his bait so that it swims near the surface, where the occasional splashing will attract predators.
The state-record tarpon, caught in 2008 at Sea View Pier, weighted 193 pounds, 5 ounces.