Shark-fishing family beaches a surprise: Huge tarpon

Jonathan Beard, Ron Beard and Jared Beard landed this 731/2-inch tarpon in the surf at Fort Fisher on Aug. 9.

When people on the beach complain about him shark-fishing from the surf, Jared Beard of Wilmington, N.C., likes to tell them that he’s really trying to catch a tarpon, cobia or big redfish.

Beard found his words turned inside out on Aug. 9, on the beach at Fort Fisher south of Wilmington, when he, his father Ron of Burlington and brother Jonathan of Wilmington hooked and beached a tarpon that was 11/2 inches longer than 6 feet and weighed at least 150 pounds.

“I usually shark-fish down there, and it had been a little slow,” said Beard, 34, who works for a pond-management company. “We had to get off the beach by 3 o’clock because somebody had to get to work.

“It was slack high tide, about 12:45, and there was nothing really going on. I changed out baits, and the last bait I put out, it took off, and I ended up with a 61/2-foot blacktip. I pulled him in, got him off, tagged and released him, and I paddled another bait out about 200 yards. There as a school of menhaden out there the size of a house, so I put it out there.”

Beard dropped the bait, a huge chunk of king mackerel, impaled on a hook he remembers as being “at least a 14/0” and paddled his kayak back into the beach.

“By the time I had paddled in and dragged the kayak up, (a fish) came flying out of the water. I thought it had to be on the bait I had put out, but the rod, nothing moved, like nothing was happening,” he said. “Then, all of the sudden, he’s on, and the rod is bent over, and he’s taking drag, jumping all over the place.”

Beard’s father and brother took turns on the Okuma rod and 50W Avet reel, working on the fish, which Beard said jumped five or six times during the 10-minute fight.

“I sure wasn’t expecting a tarpon,” he said. “When he first jumped, we didn’t know what it was; we just saw a big flash of white. I had turned around and missed one jump, and my dad and brother said it didn’t look like a shark, that it looked like a tarpon. I said, ‘No way.’”

When father and son Beard wrestled the big fish closer to the beach, Jared Beard waded out, grabbed the leader, and taking advantage of the waves, he pulled the tarpon ashore and beached it.

“There was a dropoff where the water went from about shin deep to neck deep,” he said. “I just got my hand on the leader and pulled him in with the waves.”

The Beards didn’t waste much time, taking only a few photos of the fish, then putting a tape measure on it. The beast’s fork length was 731/2 inches. Had they taken a girth measurement, they would have been able to use a formula that fishermen use to closely estimate a tarpon’s weight. A chart developed by a professor at the University of Miami, estimates that a 731/2-inch tarpon with a 30-inch girth would weigh around 155 pounds. A fish of the same length with a 40-inch girth would weigh around 210 pounds.

North Carolina’s state-record tarpon weighed 193 pounds, 5 ounces, and was caught in 2008 from Topsail Beach’s SeaView Pier by Malcolm Condie. This fish, had the Beards kept it and gotten an official weight, would not have been eligible for the record because more than one fishermen fought it.

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