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Brett Hastings: A personal quest fulfilled

A 100 pound tarpon was no match for this kayak fisherman    

A plea for “just five more minutes” turned into 50 and caused Brett Hastings to be late for a meeting with a new client,1-better-showoffsmall but he didn’t mind. Because he gave in to his kayak-fishing mate’s request, he ended a quest he had yearned to fulfill for years: He landed a 5 foot, 100-pound tarpon.

The achievement of this fisherman’s goal happened June 26 around 2 p.m. “We [Hastings and his friend Zsolt Takaczs] had been fishing for more than five hours,” explained Hastings. “Although all the conditions were right—the right weather and the large schools of bait fish—and we could see the tarpon, they just weren’t taking our bait. I was ready to head in because of a 3:30 p.m. appointment I hadn’t been able to cancel, but Zsolt begged me to try one more time. As luck would have it, within five minutes, the fish took my bait. Needless to say, I was late to my meeting, but that was OK, because it turned out my client is also a kayak fisherman. He understood.”

Hastings, who during working hours is a trial attorney and a partner in the law firm of Reznicsek, Fraser, Hastings, White & Shaffer, says landing a tarpon is not easy—especially from a kayak. “I’d caught tarpon from a boat,” he says. “Ever since I started kayak fishing about eight years ago, I’ve always wanted to catch one from a kayak. But the conditions have to be absolutely right.”

In June and July the bait fish—menhaden shad, locally called pogies—congregate in pods and move up and down the coast. Following them are tarpon (and other fish, such as sharks), who see the pods as dinner. Fishing for tarpon requires, in addition to the pods and the tarpon, a third condition—prevailing west winds. “Westerlies keep the seas flat,” says Hastings. “When you are in a fishing kayak, you need calm seas. When all three elements come together, you have a limited window of time. You have to take advantage of it!”

For a sports fisherman, the allure of catching a tarpon is the fight. And the fish Hastings caught didn’t disappoint him. “It took 50 minutes to bring him in,” he says. “But the coolest part was that because the ocean was so calm, the water was clear. I actually saw the fish take the bait. When he realized he was hooked, he took off about 50 to 60 yards in about two or three seconds. My reel felt like it was going to blow up, and I felt like I was hooked up to a Porsche 911! Then he jumped a good six or seven feet out of the water and took me for a quarter-mile ‘sleigh ride’!”

Slowly over the course of the next 25 minutes, Hastings was able to “play” the fish. “All of a sudden, the fish went down vertically,” he says. “That was when the fight got really difficult, because I had to literally pull him up from straight down. I completely underestimated the physicality of that feat. Every other time I’ve fought a large fish, I had the ability to use my legs. But this time, I had to sit the whole time. It was like in weight lifting holding a 100-pound curl for 20 minutes. I was completely worn out from the fight.”

To make sure friends would not think Hastings was telling a “fish story—since he revived and released his catch—” his friend Takaczs recorded everything on camera. “When you go kayak fishing for tarpon in the ocean, you always have a companion for safety,” says Hastings. “There is an unwritten rule that you each have a camera, and if one of you hooks a fish, the other one starts taking pictures.”

Hastings has fished all his life, and although he still fishes from boats, kayaks have become his love. “When I started kayak fishing about eight years ago, not too many people were doing it. Now, it’s different; a lot of people kayak fish. I love it. Although you go out with others, you are alone on the water. The solitude is therapeutic. It’s a great way to de-stress from work.”

When he isn’t fishing for tarpon, he enjoys hopping into one of his three kayaks or onto his gheenoe, which is essentially a motorized canoe. “I live on the marsh in Jacksonville Beach,” he says, “so after work, I go out in one of my kayaks and fish inshore for redfish, trout, or flounder.”

Hastings says he can’t wait until his three boys—4-year-old twins and a 2-year-old—are old enough to fish with him. “They fish a bit now,” he laughs, “but they don’t have a long attention span.” His wife Carrie also enjoys fishing from kayaks, so the two of them split their time on the water. “It will be nice when we can go this as a family,” he says.

In the meantime, Hastings has set a new goal: To catch another tarpon from a kayak, but this time on the fly. “Catching a tarpon in a kayak is a great challenge,” he says. “Doing it with a fly rod instead of with bait is even harder. But it’s my next great quest.”

Brett Hastings is partner in the law firm of Reznicsek, Fraser, Hastings, White & Shaffer, www.rfhlaw.com, 4230 Pablo Professional Court, Suite 200, Jacksonville, FL 32224, 904.567.1060.

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