Vol 6 No. 37 - June 7, 2006

Don’t let tarpon fever make you delirious

Tarpon can be seen along area beaches.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Mention the word tarpon from mid-May until late July and area anglers develop an affliction know as “tarpon fever." These apex predators are one of the most exciting and challenging fish that swim in saltwater, and catching one is both exhilarating and challenging.

This article isn’t about the tools and techniques you’ll need to land a tarpon. Nor is it about how to find and feed them. It’s much more important than that. This article is about everyone having a chance at catching a tarpon without having the opportunity dashed by ignorant anglers or those that don’t think before they act.

In order to have a good chance at getting a tarpon to take live bait, plugs or flies, the angler needs to make a stealthy approach, avoiding running motors near schools and avoiding noise all together in water less than five feet deep. Yes, tarpon are occasionally caught by discourteous anglers that charge a school with their motors, but it’s a fool’s game that hardly ever yields results. Fortunately, most anglers give their fellow fishermen a wide berth, going well out and away from a school (or finding another school) before falling back into their path for another cast.

Unfortunately, there are also a few anglers that either don’t know any better or don’t care. Just last week, I watched in a combination of amusement and horror as a black hulled tower boat repeatedly chased a school of tarpon across Bean Point. The angler would rush the fish at high speed, cut the engine and then make a cast as the fish fled in a panic. Not only did this action spook the fish, but it disturbed the flat for four other boats that were pursing other schools of tarpon with push poles and trolling motors.

The worst part was that the boat had a zero chance of getting a bite from the panicked fish. Only minutes later, I witnessed a guide boat stalk a school for 10 minutes, only to have a boat motor up and toss baits to the fleeing fish. You’ll never see the top local tower boat guides on these flats, because they know that the chances of a hookup are very slim, even for an experienced angler making a proper approach. Unfortunately, it seems that some inexperienced anglers are more interested in showing their friends and clients fish than getting them hookups.

Every tarpon that swims local waters has grown up around boat traffic, but if you talk to anglers and guides that have been fishing these waters for the last three decades, they’ll tell you the fish are a lot more wary. Everyone wants to experience the thrill of a tarpon sky-rocketing from the water, silver scales rattling and head slashing. It’s one of angling’s great thrills.

The next time you’re out, slow down, take your time and cut your motor long before the school arrives. Don’t run in on other boats working schools and be courteous to anglers working schools with push poles and trolling motors. Make it a point to never fish a school that someone else is working, and make a big detour around any boat you even suspect of working a school of tarpon. There are plenty of opportunities out there, and you’ll have a better chance of success if you find and fish your own schools.

Don’t let tarpon fever make you delirious. Slow down, exercise patience and be courteous.

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