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Proof that flying fish come in all shapes and sizes.

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Illustration by Scott Pollack

Some Jumps Have No Joy

Just what is the target species here?

Years ago my friend Art Pappas and his wife Joan were fishing for tarpon in Miami’s Government Cut in their 17-foot skiff. Conditions were near perfect, and it wasn’t long before Joan had a bite. She set the hook, felt a short surge, and the line went slack. A millisecond later a 150-pound tarpon jumped five feet out of the water and fell backward into their boat. It is inconceivable how much damage a fish this size can do to the inside of a flats boat, much less to anyone who gets in its way. Art scrambled as far onto the bow as possible while Joan climbed onto the engine. It seemed like forever before the tarpon died, and meanwhile all they could do was watch. There was no way they could have flipped it back into the water, and any attempt to do so would have resulted in serious injury. When it was all over, every rod in the boat was shattered and the center console was ripped out of the deck.

Fast forward a few years. Chris Dean and Ron Baker were running across Whitewater Bay in Everglades National Park at 40 mph. Another giant tarpon jumped over their boat between them and the poling platform. The impact was so powerful, the fish ripped the poling platform right off the back of the boat. If the fish had been a few feet forward, it might have killed both anglers.

Stories like this are rare in the tarpon world, but every billfish captain can tell you about a marlin or sail that jumped into his boat and seriously hurt an angler or mate. Capt. Alan Card of Bermuda watched an 800-pound blue marlin jump into his cockpit, impale his son Ian through the shoulder, and then carry him back over the gunwale into the water. Amazingly, Ian not only survived but also made a full recovery.

All this leads to a day when I was fishing with Capt. Ron Hamlin on the Captain Hook in Guatemala. I was seriously into video back then and watched most of my trips through a tiny viewfinder. There are few fish that can match the Pacific sailfish for aerial displays, and fantastic jumps are the key to good videos. Whenever I wasn’t fishing, I’d be at the stern with a camera stuck to my face.

This particular morning the bite was on, and the sails were crazy wild. My partner hooked a 100-plus-pound sail that jumped repeatedly within 100 feet of the boat—and I was getting it all on camera. Then after one particular jump, the sail angled back towards the boat and jumped again. It landed facing the camera, came out of the water again, then disappeared. The next thing I saw through the viewfinder was an eyeball filling up the entire frame. Everything happened in an instant. The sailfish smashed into the camera and me, somehow winding up on the deck between my legs. A bill swipe or two whacked the inside of my ankles as I tried to levitate out of range. Everyone immediately scattered, and I jumped up onto the fighting chair as the fish frantically “swam” its way to the stern where it was mugged by Ron’s mates.

Eventually the humans gained control, removed the hook, and dumped the fish overboard only slightly worse for wear. Then they all looked at me. How that sailfish managed to come at me eye level and wind up between my legs without impaling or disemboweling me was a mystery. Luck takes many forms on a fishing trip. Even cameramen have to be careful.

Patrick Ford is a sportfishing photographer with more than 35 years of experience. He has held more than a dozen IGFA Fly Rod World Records, ranging from a 196-pound tiger shark caught in Florida Bay to a 14½-pound tigerfish caught in Zambia. His latest book, Flyfishing Daydreams: The Most Exciting Flyfishing Adventures Around the World, was published by Skyhorse Publishing in 2011.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.