Former Oklahoma State and Edmond Santa Fe standout Brandon Weeden calls himself just a casual angler.
“I wouldn't even call myself an outdoorsman,” the Cleveland Browns' quarterback said.
But more adventures like his tarpon fishing trip to Mexico's Isla Holbox last summer has whetted Weeden's appetite for the outdoors.
Weeden caught and released a 130-pound tarpon during a fishing trip that was filmed for “Gridiron Outdoors.” The show aired Friday and Saturday on the Outdoor Channel and will reair this spring.
“Gridiron Outdoors” features either a football player or a coach as a celebrity guest. The producer and host of the show, Mike Pawlawski, is a former quarterback in the NFL, XFL and Arena League.
In the off-season, Pawlawski worked as a hunting and fishing guide.
“I knew the Arena League was not going to make me rich for life, so I had to figure out something else,” said the former University of California quarterback.
This is the third season for “Gridiron Outdoors” and the second time Weeden has appeared as a guest. Last season, Weeden and Pawlawski filmed a bass fishing show from Oklahoma's Grand Lake.
Weeden was persuaded to try tarpon fishing for the first time with the cameras rolling because Pawlawski is an avid tarpon angler. He even has a tarpon tattoo on his triceps.
“Whenever we were together, he always brought up tarpon, how much fun it was and how it was his favorite fish,” Weeden said. “I didn't know what tarpon was until I met Mike.”
Mexico's Holbox Island is near Cancun on the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and surrounded by trophy tarpon waters.
“I have real tarpon issues, and this is my favorite place in the world to go do it,” Pawlawski said.
Their strength, stamina and fighting ability make tarpon a premier game fish for anglers to pursue.
“Tarpon fishing is an absolute battle,” Pawlawski said. “If you can win 20 percent of the fish you hook, you are doing very well.”
During two days of fishing with local guide Alejandro “Sandflea” Vega, Weeden caught two baby tarpon but missed landing two trophy fish when the tarpon spit out the hook as they leaped from the water.
They had not planned to fish a third day, but Weeden wanted one last chance at a mighty tarpon.
“We weren't even supposed to go out,” Weeden said. “Our flight was that afternoon, and I talked him into going out one last time because I was so ticked off we didn't bring one in the boat.”
After fishing the mangroves, the anglers headed for open water on the third day in search of schools of sardines, on which the tarpon like to feed.
They found the sardines from the ripples in the water that looked like raindrops on the ocean. They then spotted the tarpon.
“They kind of roll across the water,” Weeden said. “Their scales are really shiny, and you can spot them when the sun hits them right.”
Once they spotted the tarpon, the guide steered the boat to get in front of the fish. Using a big artificial lure that looked like a sardine, Weeden tossed the bait about 50 yards in front of where the tarpon were swimming.
“Basically, you just got to bring it right in front of their face,” he said.
Weeden hooked a big tarpon, and for the next hour and 15 minutes, the battle was on.
“It's basically like chugging on a big refrigerator,” Weeden said. “That's the best way I can describe it.”
Weeden landed his trophy that Pawlawski estimated to weigh at 130 pounds. Not wanting to put much stress on the fish, they only had the tarpon out of the water for a few seconds and then released it, Weeden said.
“This was my first time getting in on the big boys,” Weeden said. “It was unbelievable. It was by far the best fishing trip I have been on. Catching that fish was pretty exciting.”