Somewhere among the pilings of the southern span of the Sunshine Skyway, in the deep waves that held thousands of fish, was, perhaps, Brent Homan’s kindred spirit.
Homan, now retired from the U.S. Armed Forces and a 30-year-old resident of Harker Heights, Texas, was in Manatee County to catch a tarpon.
That was the only reason. He’d always wanted to land a tarpon.
Homan was two years removed from an exploding roadside bomb in Iraq that left him with massive wounds from his hands to his head. Shrapnel pierced his brain. His right eye was diced.
Prior to surgery, Homan resisted passing out because of pain. He had to request one thing.
“I need my thumb,” he told the surgeon, “to be able to fish.”
The surgeon put a metal rod in Homan’s thumb that was shaped to allow his thumb to touch his index finger.
On July 13, with Manatee County Capt. Jason Ramsey, and 10 minutes into the fishing trip, something bit Homan’s bait.
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The explosion rocked the tank and bounced Homan into the turret, a structure that protects mounted guns. It took Homan about a minute to feel intense pain. Nighttime blanketed the Iraqi desert.
Homan then remembers waiting for a helicopter.
The Army infantry tank in June 2007 was en route to replace a platoon on a patrol base. Then the tank ran over an I.E.D. (improvised explosive device). Still, none of Homan’s fellow soldiers were injured in the explosion.
Homan, though, was shredded. Shrapnel severed the optic nerves in his right eye, scattered skin and bones in his left wrist and hand, and nearly destroyed the motor cortex in his brain.
Once he eventually left a San Antonio hospital, Homan had lost his right eye. He had significant short-term memory loss and speech impairment.
But Homan didn’t listen to doctors who told him he’d probably never move his left wrist again.
That was Homan’s reeling wrist. He’d been fishing since he was old enough to hold a rod in Texas.
“Wasn’t anybody gonna tell me I couldn’t do something,” Homan says.
Homan just wanted to fish again.
Two years, 16 surgeries and 45 days in the hospital later, Homan was under the Skyway bridge, fishing for the mightiest game fish in the Gulf of Mexico — the Silver King.
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The left wrist and hand held up fine as Homan wrestled with the first fish.
Onboard were Capt. Ramsey, Capt. Ric Liles and Chuck Guthrie, all friends of Homan’s.
Capt. Liles grew up in Ruskin with Guthrie. So when they heard Homan wanted to catch a tarpon, Liles called Ramsey.
“If you want to throw a good football, you call Brett Favre,” Liles said. “So I wanted to use that same logic and call Jason.”
There were hundreds of tarpon scooping bait fish under the bridge, but boy did Homan hook a special one. The mythological fish skyrocketed beside the boat, spraying water. Ramsey helped pull the roughly 35-pound tarpon to the boat.
Guthrie noticed it first.
“Look at it dude,” Guthrie told Homan. “That’s got only one eye like you.”
“Huh?” Homan said.
“Look at him,” Guthrie shouted. “It’s missing one eye like Brent.”
It was missing its right eye, like Homan, whose mouth dropped. The crew was stunned.
“Oh, my God,” Homan said.
Some things, it seems, are perhaps more than coincidence. The tarpon, having lost its eye, had survived an environment of persistent anglers and predatory sharks. Homan, having lost more than an eye, was still alive.
“We went out to eat afterward,” Liles said, “and we had chill bumps and stuff. It was just, like, ghost freaky.”
Today, two pieces of shrapnel that doctors deemed too risky to remove are still lodged in Homan’s brain. He deals with the memory loss, but his speech impairment is barely noticeable.
Homan does not wear an eye patch or a glass eye, his story exposed.
More proof of this improbable tale is the framed photo of himself, Capt. Liles and Capt. Ramsey with the tarpon.
This picture of a man and his fish, bonded by their tussle under the bridge and common impairment, lives on the wall of his Texas home.
“It means, ‘Keep on doing what I’m doing,’” Homan said. “God just sends me messages every once in a while, and lets me know I’m doing the right thing. That he’s still watching.”