The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 31 - May 22, 2013

reel time

It's tarpon time

Reel time

RUSTY CHINNIS | submitted
The acrobatic leaps of a tarpon will
quicken the heartbeat of the
most jaded angler.

It’s one of the most incredible experiences in the angling world. The adrenalin produced is sure to quicken the heartbeat of the most seasoned angler and weaken the knees of the uninitiated. It’s tarpon fishing and now is the time when west coast anglers have access to this amazing sport fish. Savvy anglers know that May heralds the beginning of tarpon season, but this year the great fish arrived early, brought in most likely by rising water temperatures and the arrival of massive schools of baitfish.

Area anglers are blessed with what is arguably some of the best tarpon fishing to be found anywhere in the world. While these armor plated fish are one of the most challenging species that swim the oceans waters, they are also within reach of every angler who does his/her homework and is mindful of basic rigging techniques. Tarpon, like most species, will take a larger variety of bait, lures and flies, provided they are presented properly and look, and more importantly, act natural.

Rigging properly is more important for tarpon than any other nearshore species. For spin anglers, I would suggest a 30-pound outfit spooled to capacity with 30-pound or heavier line. Double the running line using a spider hitch or a Bimini twist (learn to tie online) and tie on a two-foot section of 70-pound fluorocarbon leader. Tarpon are not as particular about lures as they are presentation, but 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 a selection, after your presentation, is your confidence in it. Whatever lure you choose make sure the hook is stout and sharp. 

For beginning anglers, finding tarpon can be the most daunting task. On most days during tarpon season, you’ll see boats hunting tarpon cruising up and down the beach, some hardly ever stopping. In my experience, the best place to look for tarpon is along the edge of a sandbar at a pass or the sandbar that parallels the beach. Anchor and just wait for them to come to you. 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 fish, adjust your position so that you’re within casting distance of their path. If you’re moving, get well ahead of them, establish their track and cut your outboard at least 50 yards ahead of them. If you’re casting a lure or a fly, the presentation has to be just right, moving away from or across the school’s path. It’s critical that the lure, fly or bait is at the same depth as the tarpon. They will seldom go even a foot or two off their path, no matter how enticing the presentation.

Securely hooking a tarpon is a feat in itself as they have incredibly hard mouths. The hooks on a lure or fly must be extremely sharp. Anglers who fish bait should use circle hooks. Fished properly they are extremely effective. The trick with circlehooks 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 it at the boat. Lots of beginners lose fish by not applying enough pressure in an attempt to keep them from breaking off. Most experience anglers know that the longer you fight a tarpon the better chance you have of losing it.

We all learn from experience and while it’s OK to observe and mimic other more experienced anglers, never intrude on another boat that’s stalking a school of tarpon. 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 to intercept.

Tarpon fishing should be fun and not a shouting match. If someone ruins your fishing try explaining the rules to them. In most cases, they don’t even know what they’re doing. Someone who just doesn’t care isn’t worth the effort, so just go find fish somewhere else. My rule is to show them the courtesy they don’t show me! 

Tarpon are one of the sport’s greatest challenges and will test your angling skills. Now is the time to try your hand either on your own or with a guide. If you want to fish with a guide just check in this paper where you’ll find information on many of the area’s professional guides. Good fishing!

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper