Fishing is an interesting hobby because no two days are the same.
Recently, I put my kayak into the Halifax River at the end of my street, as I have so many times.
It was just before dawn, and my goal was to paddle over to Tomoka State Park and wade the shoreline, as I often do.
As I cleared the Intracoastal Boat Channel, I paused to get a lung full of cool morning air.
Soon, I was past the spoil islands with the far bank coming into view highlighted by the rising sun behind me.
That's when things changed.
The river was as smooth as ice, and up ahead I could see furious motion.
At first I passed it off as a pod of feeding dolphins, but as I drew near I could tell it was something else. Halfway between the clinker islands and the park bank was a huge school of baitfish riding the incoming tide north.
As I pushed the Green Peanut into the bait, I was surrounded by feeding fish. Big fish.
A school of tarpon was tearing it up. This was not the usual baby tarpon we encounter around the Tomoka, this was the big boys. I stopped paddling and sat in the middle of the pod of bait watching and listening as the huge tarpon splashed and rolled.
Just then a big head shot up alongside my kayak and for a split second I was eye to eye with a tarpon that had eyes the size of golf balls and a head the size of a trashcan. Oh my!
I was happy the big fish did not capsize me. All around the boat tarpon from 75 to 100 pounds were going at it.
Of course, my next thought was trying to catch one. No matter that I was armed with a thin wisp of a rod that was spooled with 10-pound mono.
Like all fishermen, I am ever the eternal optimist. At that point my main worry was that if I attached myself to one of those monsters it might turn me over. As I sat there drifting north with the school, I also thought about the chance of losing the new lure that I had just tied on. Still, I could never forgive myself if I missed such an opportunity over a lost lure or an early morning swim.
I positioned myself as solidly as I could in the kayak and let fly. There was no question of whether I would hookup, and sure enough as soon as it hit the water I was on. It would not have mattered what bait I threw, a strike was a given. The reel began to sing and my rod arched. I readied myself for the jump that I knew was coming. As it turned out the tarpon was not impressed enough with my efforts to jump. It just raised its big head out of the water and shook it a couple times and sent my lure flying. That was all of the work it needed to do to free itself, and it seemed to know it. I sat there laughing and watched the school move on toward the basin.
I didn't know if any other fishermen were out on that morning, but I hoped someone else would have the same fun I had just enjoyed. I figured that the giant tarpon would continue on up the Tomoka River and that stream is mostly a dead end so they would have to swim it both ways. Hopefully someone else would have the surprise I had.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.