Stephen Walker and 38 other anglers on the Apache Pier were watching the Spring King Mackerel Tournament come to a close last Sunday, without a king being caught in two days of fishing.
But late in the afternoon, a day with little action was capped by a frantic rare encounter from a Grand Strand pier.
“We were just all messing around, nothing much going on, catching blues for bait,” said Walker. “But after time passed it just died. About 4:30 p.m. I grabbed a honey bun from a buddy.”
About 15 minutes later, it happened.
“I heard a giant splash and my buddy (John Trull) yelled ‘Tarpon!’ “ recalled Walker. “I looked to see what was going on and there was the tarpon, 30 feet in front us, tail-walking.”
With nearly 40 lines and live baits in the water, the question was, who exactly was fortunate enough to have hooked up with the tarpon?
“I noticed my bait (a 1.5-pound bluefish) wasn’t where I thought it was,” said Walker.
Instead of a king, Walker had indeed hooked up with a Silver King, perhaps the most vaunted of all saltwater gamefish.
“I thought, ‘This can’t be happening, this is so unreal,’ “ Walker remembered thinking as the tarpon ripped off nearly 500 yards of line.
Walker began working the tarpon back toward shore on his setup, a Avet MXL reel on a Penn Carnage II rod.
“It was basically a battle of left to right,” said Walker. “Probably 20 minutes into the fight I told everybody I wanted to go to the beach with it. We probably hit the hour and 20 minute mark before we actually started going down the pier.”
Maneuvering the fish down the side of the pier to the beach was, in itself, a challenge.
“I was having to go around the light posts, and those people bottom fishing kindly pulled their lines up and let me go by,” said Walker.
A crew of Walker’s friends was waiting on the beach to help with the release of the tarpon, which was complicated considering late afternoon choppy waves of 2-3 feet were rolling into the surf.
“I dropped the rod down to Brian (Snyder),” said Walker. “He caught it and then ran down beach down away from the pier, and got the line on an angle away from the pier.”
The tarpon had gotten tangled into several other anglers’ lines, which were cut, allowing Walker, who had run down to the beach and taken the rod from Snyder, to reel the fish to the beach.
Almost a half-hour later, Trull, Snyder, Landon Steen and Cam Steele all were in the water about waist deep, lifted the tarpon up and carried it to the beach.
Then it was time for a quick photo op and souvenir, and then to prepare the fish for the release.
“Our first instinct was to have one guy get two scales off the fish and everybody else was getting hooks out,” said Walker. “We got two hooks out, and cut one off close.”
Thorpe, Steele, Steen and Walker carried the fish to waist deep water and held it upright into the waves for almost five minutes to revive it.
“I got a hold of her tail moving it back and forth,” said Walker. “She was kicking as hard as she could and took off just fine.”
Walker, originally from West Virginia and a Myrtle Beach resident for 11 years, is a regular on the Apache Pier, fishing mainly for kings from spring through fall about four times a week.
The escapade with the tarpon was one he won’t soon forget.
“It was really fun and I’d do it again,” said Walker, who estimated the tarpon weighed between 80 and 100 pounds and was just under five feet in length. “They are one of the most amazing, majestic animals in the water. They can grow up to be so big, they can jump 10 feet in front of you or a thousand yards from you. They have a mind of their own.”
Spring King Mackerel Tournament
The tournament was staged on the Apache Pier and the Cherry Grove Pier Saturday and Sunday but no kings were caught on either pier.
The winners for the tournament, staged by the Grand Strand Fishing Rodeo, were determined by a drawing.
The winners were 1st place, Barry Carved; 2nd place, Hoss Duerbeck; 3rd place, John Gheto; 4th place, Chris Gore; 5th place, Lee McGraw.
Murrells Inlet Flounder Tournament
The tournament, hosted by the Murrells Inlet Rotary Club and Crazy Sister Marina, will be held June 14-15 out of the marina.
A mandatory Captains Meeting will be held at the marina June 14, with fishing to follow on June 15.
Jolly Mon King Classic
Ocean Isle Fishing Center will be one hopping place next week with numerous events surrounding the king mackerel tournament.
Rock the Dock, for children 12 and under, will be held Thursday. The Junior Jolly Mon followed by the Captains Meeting will be held Friday with fishing for the main event set for June 14-15.
For more information, call 910-575-3474 or visit www.OIFC.com.