Last week, On The Water covered a story of a Connecticut angler who caught a 19-pound barracuda off of Montauk. Just a week prior to that, we shared the tale of New Jersey’s pending state-record king mackerel—a 67-pounder that toppled the previous 54-pound record. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any more wild, I see a post from our friends at Red Top Sporting Goods in Buzzards Bay, of a tarpon—and a big one at that—caught on the south side of Cape Cod. In disbelief, I fired off a text to Connor Swartz without hesitation that read: “Tarpon on the Cape??? Is that a joke???”. It wasn’t.
In the middle of the night on August 13, Hans Brings of Mashpee, Massachusetts, caught and released a massive tarpon while shark fishing on the south side of Cape Cod.
At around 9:45 p.m., Brings arrived at his fishing spot and rode his electric bike down the shore to a plot of open beach. When shark fishing from shore, leaving ample space between baits helps to avoid tangles and tie-ups with other rigs. On this night, Hans had two rods with him—a 12-foot Penn Prevail II with a Fin-Nor Offshore 9500, and an 11-foot Tsunami Trophy with a Fin-Nor Offshore 7500—each rated to 8 ounces. He planned to meet some friends who had set up on the beach earlier in the evening, and spend the night soaking bluefish and bonito baits in the surf.
The night started off slowly, and as 1 a.m. approached and other anglers cleared the beach, Hans received his first bite. After some back and forth, he brought a 4 1/2-foot sand tiger shark to shore on a bonito chunk. Then, things went quiet for 90 minutes or so. It wasn’t until 2:30 a.m. that he received the next bite, only this time, it felt like something curiously playing with his chunk of bluefish.
Then, at 3 a.m., a decisive strike and blistering run came on the bluefish-baited Tsunami Trophy setup. From there, a 25-minute battle ensued. “The fish went on these long runs that made me think it was a 6-foot-plus brown shark,” he said,” but then I’d get heavy, dead weight that felt like a ray until the head shakes started.” With 65-pound-test braided line and nearly 40 pounds of drag locked down on the fish, he was able to turn its head and bring it to shore. As it neared the beach, Brings passed the rod to his buddy, Mike Xidea, and jumped in the water to land his catch. “It went on a few more short runs in the wash once it realized it was caught, but I still thought it was a shark through all the splashing,” said Brings. It wasn’t until the starlight revealed the unmistakeable gleam of a silver king’s scales that he realized he had caught a massive tarpon. “It honestly looked like a giant herring, and that’s when I thought: did I really just catch a tarpon?” Hans told me, chuckling.
Tropical visitors are nothing new to southern New England. Over the past 10 years, cobia have repeatedly appeared in Buzzards Bay, and have even become an established summertime target species for anglers in New Jersey and Long Island. Even juvenile king mackerel are now a highly-anticipated bycatch on Cape Cod when their relatives, Spanish mackerel, invade our warm, late-summer waters. But to catch a tarpon—especially one of this size—from shore on Cape Cod, is a long shot.
Brings, a junior studying Animal Sciences at the University of Rhode Island, did everything in his power to document the catch and get the fish back in the water in a minute’s time. His reel was spooled with 65-pound braided line, and his shark rigs consist of a 300-pound monofilament shock leader with 12 to 18 inches of 175-pound wire leader attached to a 12/0 Eagle Claw Circle Sea hook, which he prefers due to the wide hook gap. He decided against taking any measurements in the interest of releasing the fish in good condition. In a video shared to social media, Brings—who is 5′ 11″— briefly lays next to the fish for reference. He estimates the fish to be approximately 5 feet in length, which would put it in the ball park of 100 pounds.
The circle hook he chose worked just as intended. As Brings described it, the hook was stuck low in the corner of the mouth and was barely pinned beneath the papery cartilage of the tarpon’s jaw, which allowed for a quick and painless hook removal. Had the fish repeatedly leapt from the water, as hooked tarpon are notorious for doing, the hook could have easily popped out and flung with an aerial head shake.
“People are upset with me on social media because I didn’t keep the fish in the water the whole time,” said Brings, “but I had no idea that I was going to be pulling in a tarpon until it was thrashing right in front of me.” In Florida, any tarpon measuring over 40 inches by fork length must remain in the water, even for photography.
While Xidea held the rod and camera, Brings was left to handle the fish solo. After a quick and seamless hook removal and a few quick pictures, he returned to the water to revive his catch before releasing it. “As soon as I got it back into deep enough water, it was clear the fish wanted to do its own thing. It swam off with energy in less than 10 seconds.”
With the fish released around 3:40 a.m., Brings decided to call it a night. When asked what he’d taken away from the experience, he responded “I really appreciate moments like these because they show us how our environment is changing along with our fisheries.”
As he returns to student life in the coming weeks, he’ll have quite a story to share with friends on campus.
“When I look at the photos, I still can’t believe it all happened,” Brings said. “It feels like winning a lottery ticket.”