Tarpon to hand, via hand line.

Tarpon to hand, via hand line. Photo courtesy Kristjan Must.

Hand Line Kayak Tarpon
By Mike Stevens

The term "hand line fishing" can conjure up images of anything ranging from fishing off a dock for bluegill as a kid to the epic battle between man and marlin in The Old Man and the Sea. The fisherman featured in this video takes it one step further by adding the kayak factor, creating an incredibly primitive connection between an angler and one of the most acrobatic fish on earth.

"So far, the tarpon I have been catching on the hand line are my best catches to date," says Kristjan Must, a 32-year-old nuclear engineer out of Miami. "Although those tarpon are not the largest ones I have caught, catching them on a hand line is much more rewarding."

A product of the Jersey Shore where he honed his passion for fishing while chasing largemouth and striped bass with his father, he moved to Miami in 2012 where the sheer diversity of kayak fishing opportunities available turned his hobby into a full-blown obsession.

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"I fish both inshore for species such as trout, snook, snapper and tarpon; and when weather permits I venture offshore up to four miles for tuna, sailfish, kingfish and dolphin. The diversity of Miami waterways enables me to fish grass flats, channels, canals, inlets, beaches, and blue water all depending on what species I feel like targeting that day," he adds.

Like many techniques perfected on a 'yak, his hand line rig is the result of a fair amount of trial and error. For hand line fishing, he uses a nine-inch plastic spool filled with 60-pound mono and adds a 4-foot section of 100-pound mono for abrasion resistance. A a 7/0 circle hook is on the business end of the rig. He pins on a live mullet when targeting tarpon. He then chooses an area he knows holds his target species, and simply drifts over it.

"There is a real risk of injury using the hand line. Mishandling the spool could result in the line wrapping around my wrist or hand, so I have to be much more attentive, and I anticipate how the fish will react so that I don’t get injured. The risk is worth the reward when my shaking hands are finally able to grab one of these silver kings after an epic round of tug-of-war," Must says.

He doesn't use the hand line exclusively as he acknowledges that fishing with lures with a hand line isn't very realistic. So there is conventional gear on the boat. But, 100 percent of his live bait fishing is now done with a hand line.

"It is the challenge of hand line fishing for big fish that I find most appealing. I mentioned the idea of catching tarpon on a hand line to some seasoned fisherman buddies and they laughed at me. Being that no one thought it could be done, I set out to prove the doubters wrong and I did just that," he adds.

He also says he plans on catching a sailfish on the hand line this winter.

Any doubters?

Hand liner Kristjan Must on his primitive fishing platform.

Hand liner Kristjan Must on his primitive fishing platform. Who could doubt? Photo courtesy Kristjan Must.