Tarpon tows paddleboarder up river

  • Along the way%2C it naturally continually tried to break free%2C heading for docks and piers%2C but Purcell hung on by using his own fisherman%27s guile

Some fishermen might be tempted to tell tall tales, but Steve Purcell has proof of an exhilarating duel with a tarpon that towed him nearly a mile up the Marco River on his stand-up paddleboard.

At times, Purcell said, it felt like the spirited tarpon almost had his board on a plane as it reached speeds of up to 10 knots.

Friends took videos of part of his one-and-a-half hour battle with the 100-pound fish, which he hooked during one of his regular after-work angling jaunts on the water.

"It was my best fishing experience by far," said Purcell, 39, who was raised on Marco Island and enjoys fishing and surfing in equal measures.

Recently, he decided to switch from a boat to the paddleboard, a Hovie SUP, and on this particular evening was using light tackle and a spinning rod. He had a hit from a tarpon after using a crab as bait, but hard-to-hook species typically escaped. Soon afterwards, a tarpon took his new bait of mullet … and the game was on.

It was actually a double strike by the fish.

"The first time, he struck with incredible force and threw the bait as he went into the air," Purcell said. "Then he grabbed it again."

An epic fight ensued, with the tarpon jumping nine times during the trip from the Snook Inn to the Judge S. S. Jolley Bridge about a mile-and-a-half up the Marco River.

Along the way, it naturally continually tried to break free, heading for docks and piers, but Purcell hung on by using his own fisherman's guile of dipping his fishing pole with the fish jumped and raising it when the tarpon dived.

Upon reaching the bridge, the tarpon "threaded the needle" through the main opening, but a couple of times nevertheless managed to slam Purcell and his craft into a wooden section below.

Eventually, the now-exhausted Purcell ("my legs were numb, and my back still hurts") managed to bring the fish closer and grab its lip to remove the hook before letting it go.

"At that stage, it still had fight in it … I was weaker than the fish," Purcell said, adding that it was probably fortunate for the creature because sharks find tired fish easy prey.

Purcell's fight with the fish caught the attention of various boaters in the area, and they stuck with him both for interest and for the sake of precaution.