Every year I take my 31-foot Chris Craft to the Florida Keys for tarpon season and leave it at my buddy’s condo in Marathon. When the weather is favorable we drive down with our girlfriends in the hopes of putting them on some fish. Tops Off sleeps six, as long as all are really good friends. On this particular trip my girlfriend Heather and I were accompanied by Dave and Ashley, and Mark and Stephanie.
We made the drive down Overseas Highway Friday afternoon and were soon relaxing on the boat with cocktails in hand while coaching the girls on proper fish-fighting techniques. After sitting them down in the fighting chair we gave them a rundown on when to pump the rod and how to guide line on the spool. “Oh yea, and don’t forget to bow to the king,” Mark added.
The girls practiced the technique and after a few more cocktails everyone was ready to get cozy in the close quarters. The next morning we were up early for our standards, around 10:00 am, and grabbed a quick breakfast before heading out. By the time we arrived at Bahia Honda Bridge there were already a dozen guides moored off to the bridge girders. The tide was ripping so it was tricky maneuvering Tops Off close enough to latch onto the bridge. All eyes were on us, not because our 31-foot fly bridge cruiser was a bit overkill for tarpon fishing, but because of our bikini-clad crew prancing around the cockpit.
On his third swipe Dan finally managed to hook the girder and turned around with a look of accomplishment. The current was pulling us away fast and transfixed to the pole, Dave was pulled over the bow in the blink of an eye. I was so embarrassed that I considered completely ignoring him and letting him drift away, but with hungry sharks cruising the waters we reluctantly pulled him aboard to the amusement of the fleet.
We finally tied off to the bridge and within minutes of putting our first bait in the water we had a tarpon on. While anxiously jumping in the fighting chair Ashley kept chanting, “Bow to the king…Bow to the king.”
To our surprise, Ashley worked the rod as if she had caught hundreds of tarpon, but her silver trophy had yet to reveal itself in a magical aerial display. As she reeled down in an effort to gain line, the tie string on her bikini top somehow flipped over the spool and buried under a few loops of monofilament. In a flash of brilliance the tarpon took to the air and in the heat of the moment while overwhelmed with jubilee, Ashley didn’t realize she was now tethered to the reel. Not wanting to lose the fish she bowed to the king as instructed. Just then, a loud snap could be heard across the fleet and we all thought the line parted and the tarpon had escaped.
Instead, tangled right there in the spool was a yellow polka-dot bikini top, which meant that Ashley was now bare from the waste up. It took her a few seconds to realize what had just happened, and she didn’t know whether to cover herself or keep fighting the fish. Like a true sportsman, and to the delight of everyone watching, she thankfully chose the latter. Simultaneously, an enthusiastic round of applause came from the boats up and down the bridge as Ashley continued to battle a beast of a fish, unaffected by her wardrobe malfunction. Unfortunately, her efforts were in vain as a few minutes later the leaping giant spit the hook. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bigger smile after losing such a quality fish.