Cruising swiftly and silently just beneath the surface, tarpon pass virtually unseen along the Panama City Beach coastline on their annual summer migration through the Gulf of Mexico. Unseen, that is, until Capt. Justin Leake sets the hook and gives beachgoers a front row seat to acrobatics fit for a “silver king.”
“It’s like a bomb ready to go off,” says Capt. Leake. “Few things are as exciting as hooking a big tarpon, whether you get it to the boat or just enjoy the fight for a couple of minutes before it spits the hook.”
Local charter fishing guide Ricky McNaron joins Justin to patrol the tarpon’s beachfront migration routes. Large schools often include more than a hundred fish – some that are 20, 30 or even 50 years old and have passed through these waters annually for decades.
Maintaining a healthy tarpon fishery means ending the fight quickly and releasing the fish as soon as possible. When it appears a just-released tarpon is in distress, Justin enters lifesaving mode and literally leaps into action – an amazing rescue effort caught on camera.