Tarpon Season: Show some respect
Captain Rick Grassett maneuvers the boat while Rick Happle,
of Tampa, fights a tarpon in Tampa Bay near Anna Maria Island.
Tarpon season is here, and anglers, who rig properly, are patient and show a little respect to the fish and other Waltonians, can experience one of angling’s greatest pleasures. But don’t let the fact that you’re unfamiliar with tarpon fishing deter you. Anna Maria Island has some of the state’s top tarpon guides who can help you experience the thrill of a lifetime.
Tarpon will fall for a well placed crab, pinfish, artificial lure or fly, but anglers need to be on top of their game. You’ll hear many fishermen say that they just like to see a tarpon jump when first hooked and are not interested in actually landing them. The reason you hear this a lot is because tarpon are incredibly tough fish, and intimidating to people who don’t know how to fight them. If you hook one (on any tackle) and don’t fight it properly, you could be in for a couple of hours of back-breaking work. Work them properly from the minute you hook them and you can land them consistently in under half an hour.
The key to catching tarpon quickly (better for the angler and the tarpon) is to know the breaking strength of your leader, rig properly and fight them hard from the strike. It’s important to hold your rod with only a slight bend over the whole length rather than high with a big arch. I learned this from Andy Mill, arguably the greatest tarpon fisherman alive.
Rigging is critical. Tarpon will test your tackle and technique to the limit. One weak link and the game is over. First and foremost you’ll need a reel with a smooth drag. A matching rod, quality line and a well sharpened hook are mandatory!
Learn how to rig a proper tarpon leader. I start by doubling my 20-pound class tippet (the weakest link) and tying it to 70-pound bite tippet using an improved blood knot. It’s critical when tying any knot to wet it and draw it very tight. That way there is no chance of it slipping. I leave my 20-pound tippet on the spool and then measure off about 6 feet of line before clipping it off. I then double the line and tie a Bimini twist. At this point, I trim all the ends and tie my fly on with a non-slip mono loop knot. This same leader can be used with any tackle. To finish, simply twist the two ends of the Bimini and attach to your running line with another improved blood knot. This knot is a bit difficult to tie at first, but it’s a terrific connection.‑In lieu of the blood knot, a uni-knot can be used.
The best tip for consistent success in tarpon fishing is to exercise patience and be considerate of other anglers. Never run an outboard near tarpon. While it’s possible to catch one this way occasionally, the method spoils the fishing for everyone. When you spot a school of fish, place yourself in its path and wait (motors off) for them to approach. Timing is important. Judge the path of the fish and make a long cast to intercept them. If they track off, or don’t bite, wait until they are well past and make a wide loop around the school to set up again. Stay well away from any boat that is fishing a school. Go around and wait your turn or find another target. If anglers use this method, everyone gets a shot without spooking the fish. Better yet, find a good edge where tarpon travel, and stay there. You might find you get more, better quality shots by avoiding the temptation to chase schools of fish. Tarpon fishing is one of the most challenging and exciting experiences in the angling world. Learn to rig properly, be patient and considerate of other anglers and you’ll have the time of your life. Go out unprepared and you’re in for one of the world’s most frustrating experiences.
There are many local guides that can put you on tarpon in area waters. These guides are well versed in the habits of tarpon, they are experts at rigging, know how to approach them and how to make a proper presentation.
If you're finding tarpon fishing challenging, a trip with a guide will pay big dividends.
Tide Mark Boat Basin (adjacent to Island Discount Tackle), Captain Randall Fowler, 941-238-8925; Captain Justin Moore, 941-720-6408; and Catchers Marina, Captain Tom Chaya, 941-778-4498.