Sometimes, the best kept secret is in your own backyard. That’s what lifelong Panama City Beach resident Philip “Griff” Griffitts learns when he joins Capt. Justin Leake for a summertime tarpon adventure in the season six premiere of “Chasin’ The Sun.”
Griffitts, who serves as a Bay County commissioner and a member of the Tourist Development Council, grew up working in his family’s hospitality business on the sugar white sands of Panama City Beach. An accomplished angler, Griff has landed just about every species of fish that swims in his hometown waters except the elusive, acrobatic tarpon.
Capt. Leake is determined to fulfill his angling partner’s dream. “As a fishing guide, there’s nothing that makes me happier and more fulfilled than giving someone a new experience,” says Justin.
After a short cruise to the west end of the beach, Capt. Leake quickly spots a school of tarpon on their annual migration through the Gulf of Mexico but the excitement is tempered by knowledge that patience is the key to success. “People see tarpon out here and they don’t catch them because they want to chase the fish,” he says. “You’ve got to sit tight and let them come to you.”
Outsmarting a powerful tarpon also requires some finesse. Light tackle, light line and small hooks are must-haves if you want to entice bites when fishing in clear water.
It doesn’t take long before Leake and Griffitts crack the code and enjoy the thrills that only the acrobatic tarpon can provide. “Bow when he jumps!” yells Justin as he encourages Griff to allow slack in the line when he finally gets an audience with his first Panama City Beach “silver king.”
After six bites and a couple of landings, the battles come to an end. “It’s almost like a once-in-a-lifetime experience because I’ve caught tarpon elsewhere but I had never done it here,” says Griff. “When you can do it on your home beach, it is a truly magical experience.”
Later, the anglers enjoy a rare sighting of a whale shark, a harmless filter feeder and the world’s largest fish that can reach lengths up to 40 feet, as it cruises the surface just a few hundred yards off the beach.
Finally, we head over to Pirates Cove Marina to check out “Forkzilla,” the massive forklift used to transport vessels from dry storage to the dock whenever owners are ready for their own boating adventures.