An angler’s first saltwater fishing trip is always something special. But, 15-year-old Kyle Crissler of Jacksonville, Ark. took it to another level while surf fishing with his friend, Matthew Usrey, and his dad, Robert Usrey, on Portsmouth Island on June 27th. While hoping to catch a shark, Kyle intercepted a tarpon over 6 feet long instead.
On the last night of Crissler's trip with the Usreys, he was soaking half a croaker between mile marker 5 and 6, toward the northern end of the island. He sported a 12-foot surf rod mated to a Penn reel, spooled with 60-pound braided line and an 80-pound monofilament leader. A 5/0 circle hook completed his setup.
“I'd say it was about 20 to 30 minutes after dark when it hit,” said Robert Usrey. “It went off pretty hard. It just about stripped the reel in 5 minutes.”
Just in time, the fish lost steam and slowed enough for Crissler to begin putting line back on the reel before the tarpon surged again.
“It was running back and forth down the beach,” said Usrey. “I would say it ran a quarter of a mile. Once it got across the first sandbar, he kept running back and forth, up and down the beach.”
After about ninety minutes of fighting, the fish was finally led into the surf zone, where Usrey coached Crissler to use the incoming waves to propel it onto the sand. However, due to the irregularity of tarpon being caught from the surf, especially on Portsmouth Island, Usrey was at a loss to identify it.
“We didn't know exactly what it was,” said Usrey. “To me, a tarpon is silver and black. This one had a lot of green on it and I didn't recognize it. I took a picture and called my friend, Andy Couch, and he said, ‘Man, that's a tarpon! How big is it?’”
Being so far down the beach from where the fight began and where their tackle sat, Usrey decided not to delay the fish’s return any longer and used his own body as measurement. Laying alongside the fish, it stretched a foot longer than his 5 feet, 7-inch height.
“It was a struggle to get him back in the water,” said Usrey. “But, I grabbed his tail and pushed him nose first into the water a couple times and away he went, uninjured.”
“I’d never caught a fish of that size,” said Crissler. “It was incredible. I don't know how to describe it. My forearm was cramping up from trying to pull him up so hard. But, I wanted to go again after that. I wanted to catch another one.”