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A tarpon tale — big fish KO’s surfer

Rich McKay
Posted May 10, 2001

NEW SMYRNA BEACH — It sounds like a fish story, but it isn’t.

A really big fish jumped out of the water and clobbered a surfer.

It hit him in the head and knocked him out cold.

As if it’s not bad enough that snacking sharks might mistake a surfer’s foot for food, surfers such as John "Casey" McDermott have to contend with flying tarpon.

The big, bony fish are swimming close to shore this month to spawn, and that makes them frisky enough that they sometimes launch themselves from the water.

Most are a couple of feet long and weigh about 50 pounds. The one in this tale was a lot bigger — 5 feet long and maybe 100 pounds.

If a human gets in the way — ouch!

It happened about two weeks ago to the 22-year-old Edgewater man in the early-morning hours of April 24.

The fish came out of the water and knocked him senseless as he stood up to catch a wave near Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach.

Luckily for McDermott, a fellow surfer was right there watching the whole thing.

Chuck Carter, 35, saw the massive, silvery fish jump right out of the water at McDermott.

A second later, McDermott’s board was floating by itself. Surfer and fish were gone.

"I thought he’d come up to the surface, but he didn’t, so I paddled out there," said Carter, who own Nichols Surf Shop in New Smyrna.

Carter pulled McDermott to the surface and the young man started coughing up blood but did not regain consciousness.

McDermott was under water for about 20 or 30 seconds and inhaled some salt water, lifeguards say. His nose was broken and he had cuts on his face.

Paramedics took McDermott to Bert Fish Medical Center, where he woke up four hours later in intensive care.

"If he [Carter] wasn’t there, my son would be dead," said John McDermott’s father, Paul J. McDermott of Malabar.

If this surfer wants revenge, the fish couldn’t have made a worse enemy. McDermott is a chef — a graduate of the Culinary Institute of West Palm Beach and a cook at a New Smyrna restaurant A Touch of Italy.

Payback: The fish could be baked, broiled, sautéed and served with a little lemon and parsley.

But no fear — McDermott isn’t holding a grudge. Besides, it’s a bony fish. People don’t eat tarpon.

Joe Wooden of the Volusia County Beach Patrol said the accident shouldn’t make anyone fearful about going to the beach.

"I’ve been in this business for 27 years, and I’ve never heard of anything like it," Wooden said.

Rich McKay can be reached at rmckay@orlandosentinel.com or 386-253-2316.

Copyright © 2001, Orlando Sentinel


Tarpon fishing with bait

Sean Tanner   Hooked Up Fishing Charters 


Tarpon is one of the most exciting saltwater fish to catch. If you know which live bait to use, and when, it will make your tarpon excursion even better.

Sean Tanner, who runs Hooked Up Fishing Charters in Clearwater, Fla., likes to use several different baits for tarpon:

"They like scaled sardines, threadfin herring (also known as white bait), live shad and pinfish," Tanner says. "It just depends on the areas you are fishing and the methods that you fish."
Tarpon can be found just about anywhere. You can fish for them off structures, such as bridges or piers; near the shore, known as "off the beach;" and offshore, maybe miles from land.

When fishing from structures, such as a bridge, Tanner likes to use live sardines, threadfin herring or even ladyfish. Why?
"Most bridges are holding that type of bait," He says. Tanner believes the best baits to use are the ones normal to that environment.

He uses anywhere from 4 to 6-inch baitfish. "The bigger the better, but I have had several fish that didn’t turn down a small bait," Tanner says. "Whatever they see that looks appetizing, they will eat it."

When fishing off the beach, Tanner uses shellfish, such as blue crabs. He also uses any type of sardine.

"With the sardine, I hook them directly through the nose," Tanner says. "With threadfin, I would hook them the same as the sardine. With blue crab, I would hook them right through the side of the shell where the pointy end is. The crab should be about the size of a silver dollar."

When fishing for tarpon offshore, Tanner likes to take along his entire arsenal of live baits so he has, "whatever they are hungry for." He adds, "I go out with everything because you never know. When using two rods, I like to alternate the baits to figure out what they are eating."

When fishing for tarpon with live bait, it’s better to keep the bait within the top two feet of the surface. When tarpon are looking for live bait, they look towards the surface, not towards the bottom. They expect to find dead bait on the bottom.

Visit Sean Tanner’s website at www.HookedUpFish.com or contact him at (727) 447-8386.



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