Tarpon fishing: Show a little respect
Getting eye to eye with a tarpon isn't easy, but it's well
worth the effort. Here Captain Rick Grassett puts the pressure
to a fish in the final stage of the fight.
Tarpon season is in full bloom and should be heading to a peak on the full moon in a couple of weeks. If you've never tried tarpon fishing, call a couple of friends and go out with one of the many excellent guides fishing our area waters. You don't have to be a pro to catch tarpon, but a guided trip will be the best investment you've ever made, guaranteed!
If you decide to try it on your own or don't have much experience, here's a quick primer that can get you up to speed. Tarpon fishing doesn't have to be difficult. In fact it can be quite easy. Catching is another story. First and foremost realize that you'll be throwing bait, lures or flies at one of the most powerful gamefish that swim coastal waters. Not being prepared or aware of what you're doing can be dangerous to you and the tarpon.
You need to match your tackle to the task. Unless you plan on just getting a few jumps (not a bad idea) and letting them get away, you'll need a minimum of 20-pound test tackle and 30 is better. While many anglers seem convinced that you need live bait for any degree of success, I can guarantee you that you can hook tarpon on a well presented artificial lure. I would even recommend trying artificial lures first. It's a lot less hassle to just tie on a lure than to catch or buy live bait, keep it alive and change it out periodically. Here's my recommendation – start with a quality 30 spinning outfit spooled to capacity with 30-pound line. Double the 30-pound using a Spider Hitch or a Bimini Twist and tie on a two -foot section of 70-pound fluorocarbon leader. My favorite lure is a DOA red and white Baitbuster(deep runner trolling model). Another favorite is the 1/2 ounce DOA Nite Glow Shrimp. The hook that comes with the shrimp doesn't leave a very big gap, so try replacing it with an Owner Aki 3/0 or 4/0. If you have a favorite lure use it, because the most important choice when it comes to any lure is one you have confidence in. I haven't found tarpon to be particularly picky about the type of lure, as long as it's presented correctly and they're in the mood to feed.
Once you're rigged and ready you need to find the fish. Any given day you'll see boats hunting tarpon cruising up and down the beach, some hardly ever stopping. I like to find an area where tarpon travel, like the edge of a bar and just wait for them to come to me. It's OK to move around a bit, but anglers that have patience invariably do better than those who can't sit still. Tarpon are often easy to spot as they travel in large schools down the beach. Individual fish will come to the surface for a breath of air (one of only a few fish that supplement their oxygen by inhaling air), and sometimes they will lay up on the surface with tails and fins sticking out of the water. Tarpon are occasionally hooked by anglers that do everything wrong, but that's the exception and not the rule. When you spot a school of moving fish, get well ahead of it, establish its track and cut your outboard at least 50 yards ahead of it. If you're casting a lure or a fly, the presentation has to be right, moving away from or across the school's path. Another important factor is getting the presentation down to the tarpon's level. They will seldom go even a foot or two off their path to take a bait or lure.
Hooking a tarpon is a feat in itself, as they have incredibly hard mouths. You have to have either very sharp hooks or better yet, try a circle hook. The trick with circle hooks is to never set the hook. Just let the line come tight and start reeling. In either case, when you hook a tarpon, fight it with maximum pressure from the hook set until you have itat the boat. Lots of beginners lose fish by not applying enough pressure in an attempt to keep them from breaking off. My experience is that the longer they are on the hook, the better chance you have of losing them.
When you go tarpon fishing it's OK to pay attention to other more experienced anglers, but never intrude on a boat that's stalking a school. Circle wide of other anglers, and go farther down the beach and line up for a turn. It's rude and ruins the fishing for everyone when you run up on a school of fish that someone else has already gotten in position. Tarpon fishing should be fun and not a shouting match. If someone ruins your fishing try explaining the rules to him. In most cases he doesn't even know what he's doing. Someone who just doesn't care isn't worth the effort, so just go find fish somewhere else. My rule is to show him the courtesy he didn't show me!
Tarpon are one of the sport's greatest challenges and a test of your angling mettle. Now is the time to try your hand either on your own or with a guide. Chances are you'll find an ad for one of the area's professional guides on a nearby page. And don't forget to show a little respect. This can and should be fun for everyone.