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Typical Hooked Tarpon
Click on Tarpon

Chasing Silver in Southwest Florida 

Capt. Kevin Chamberlain

Updated 12.21.2014


  Tarpon usually start to show up on the southwest coast of Florida around the middle of May. They migrate up from warmer waters and early in the season, before they arrive here, will be seen laid up on grass flats in areas like Bull Bay and Turtle Bay in Charlotte Harbor, and in Pine Island Sound, probably resting from the journey.

  They’ll also pack into a well know tarpon hangout called Boca Grande Pass. World renowned for it’s two deep holes, and the hundreds of "silver kings" that gather there. If it’s heavy tackle, horse ‘em to the boat action you’re looking for, then this is the place to be.

  On the other hand, if you’d rather test your skill at light tackle or fly fishing for these monsters, fishing the beaches can be the most heart pounding method to go up against such a prized catch. Not only can you see the fish, some will even take the bait right on the surface, right in front of your eyes.

  When the action gets into full swing, there will be literally hundreds of tarpon in schools cruising, milling and "daisy chaining" all along the beaches. Some schools will hold 10 or 20 fish and some will hold 50 to 100 or more. Some will be in as little as three feet of water and some will be out in twenty. The day starts just before sunrise, usually sitting tight against the beach waiting for the first schools to show.

  As the fish move, some will come to the surface, roll and take in a gulp of air. Aside from the anticipation that you’re already feeling, that’s about when you start to feel a weakness somewhere around your knees. To cast to these fish, you need to move ahead of the school. The best way to maneuver around them is with an electric trolling motor. Once ahead, you can intercept them and drop your bait, lure or fly out in front of the school.

  In most cases, the rolling fish will not be the ones to eat. Casting far enough ahead will allow the bait or fly to sink down, where it will hopefully get inhaled by the largest one down in the column. On the other hand, tarpon that are daisy chaining just might take that bait right on the surface.

  Daisy chaining is said to be a pre-spawning ritual. That’s where they’ll slowly swim head to tail in a tight circle, sometimes barely moving in any direction. More often than not, these will be the first fish of the day to show, and in the early morning calm, a delicate cast is in order. Lay the bait just outside the chain, where the fish moving toward it will spot it. Sometimes they’ll roll over on it, right on the surface. Other times, they’ll peel off the chain after it sinks, long enough to snatch it, and then return only to feel the sting of a hopefully well-set hook.

  When they take the bait or fly, it’s not usually a savage strike. You’ll probably feel dead weight. At this point you’ll really need to set the hook. I mean drive it home three or four times. If he’s not running off drag, set it again. It may seem like overkill, but they have extremely hard, bony mouths, and you’ve got to bury the hook if you want to land him.

  Circle hooks have become popular with many area guides and tarpon aficionados. The opposite applies here. You have to resist the urge to set the hook. Set it and you’ll most likely pull it out of their mouths. Just take in the slack and reel tight. Once the fish is on, then you can give it a tug or two.

  When a hooked tarpon realizes something’s not right, you’ll know immediately. He’ll take to the air, usually in a series of aerial displays, jumping and rattling his gills. Then you’ll understand why you need a reel with a good, smooth drag system, because now he’s going to make a mad dash for Mexico and all you can do is let him.

  Try to gear your tackle so that you can get a fair fight out of the fish, but will still be able to revive and release him unharmed. Spinning gear in the 20 to 30 pound class is preferred. For the fly anglers, a 12 Weight outfit is perfect. Any less and you will most likely prolong the fight to the point where you can harm them. A short length of 80 to 100 pound fluorocarbon leader is also recommended, again because of their rough mouths.

  For live baiters, the bait of choice is a live blue crab. About a two to three inch carapace is preferred, and they can still be cast a mile. Pinfish, scaled sardines and threadfin herring are also good baits, with the latter hooking several decent tarpon last season. For those throwing flies, last years best was the Black Death. It can be tied in several colors, including black and purple, black and blue and black and red. As the day progresses, and the sun gets higher, lighter colors are usually preferred.

  For newcomers to the sport, it might be best to go along with someone who knows the ropes before you venture out there on your own. And as with any type of fishing, courtesy and common sense go a long way on the water. These fish can be very spooky and any unnatural noises from the boat can put them down.

  Tarpon travel in a zone along the coast that stretches out to about a mile or so. Therefore, it makes sense not to run your boat through that area if you don't have to. Also, it's not recommended to fire up the big motor around a school, especially if there's another boat trying to fish them. If you fish a school without a hook up, let them get well beyond, then move around to the inside or the outside of the zone and reposition your boat well ahead of them.

  If you spot another boat working fish, it's usually best to let them jump one from the school, then move in quietly. If they’re moving your way, sit tight and let them come to you. It's not recommended to run the boat up on them. And as a last note, if you see an angler fly fishing for these beasts, give them a break and wait for the next pod to show. You’ll not be helping their cause by barraging the fish with live baits.

  Most years, tarpon will hang around the beaches thru July, but each year is different. Some years they’ll arrive early, sometimes they’ll stay later. They average around 90  to 100 pounds, with most catches ranging from 60 to 150 pounds. Experience one and you’ll no doubt find out why they call tarpon fishing a sickness.  

 

Capt. Kevin Chamberlain
(941)366-FISH (3474)
info@flatsangler.com


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