The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 14 No. 29 - May 14, 2014

reel time

Tarpon – one of fishing's greatest challenges

Reel time

rusty chinnis | sun

Tarpon provide heart stopping action when they leap
from the Gulf waters.

Tarpon season is poised to get off to an early start this year as anglers start pursuing one of fishing’s greatest challenges. At this time of the year the action can be almost non-existent one day and extremely productive the next. I spent a day on the water with my longtime friend Captain Rick Grassett last week looking for some early season tarpon, and although we spent five hours on the water and had only one cast at a school of about 20 fish, it was a beautiful day on the water. It was time spent with a friend, recollecting other trips of memorable fights and bites. We knew when we went that it was possible we wouldn’t see any fish. Then again it would have been possible to have shots and bites from scores of fish. That’s tarpon fishing!

If you've experienced the thrill of tarpon fishing, you’ll know why guides call it the “the apex of angling.” The best way to experience tarpon fishing is to engage the services of a local guide who knows the ways of tarpon and the Gulf waters. You don't have to hire a professional to catch a tarpon, but a guided trip will be the best investment you've ever made if you’re new to the sport.

Hooking a tarpon isn’t necessarily difficult; catching is another story. 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 a tarpon.

First, you need to match your tackle to the task. Unless you plan on just getting a few jumps and letting them get away, you'll need a minimum of 20-pound test tackle, with 30-pound being even better. While many anglers seem convinced that you need live bait for any degree of success, tarpon will readily take a well presented artificial lure or fly. It's a lot less hassle to tie on a lure than to deal with live bait.

I would recommend starting with a quality 30-pound spinning outfit spooled to capacity with 20- to 30-pound line. Double the standing line using a Spider Hitch or a Bimini Twist and tie on a two-foot section of 70-pound fluorocarbon leader.

A favorite lure of mine 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 your confidence in it. I haven't found tarpon to be particularly picky as long as it's presented correctly and they're in the mood to feed. One caveat, the hook must be sharp and stout.

Once you're rigged and ready, you need to find the fish. Any given day you'll see boats that are hunting tarpon cruising up and down the beach. Some hardly ever stop. Personally, 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. When the water is clear and the sun is out, tarpon are easy to spot. On cloudy days you have to look for fish coming to the surface for a breath of air.

Tarpon are occasionally hooked by anglers that do everything wrong, but that's the exception and not the rule. When you spot schools of moving fish, get well ahead of them, establish their track and cut your outboard at least 50 yards ahead.

If you're casting a lure or a fly the presentation has to be nearly perfect, moving away from or across their path. Another important factor is getting the presentation down to the tarpon's level. They will seldom go even a foot or two out of their way to take bait or lure.

Hooking a tarpon is a feat in itself as they have incredibly hard mouths. You have to have very sharp hooks. When you hook a tarpon, fight them with maximum pressure from the hook set until you have them at the boat. Lots of beginners lose fish by not applying enough pressure, hoping, mostly in vain, that it will keep them from breaking off. Experience has shown that the longer you fight them, the better chance you have of losing them.

When you go tarpon fishing it is OKto 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 after anglers are in position to intercept them. 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.

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. Get a recommendation or look for an ad on a nearby page. And don't forget to show a little respect to other anglers.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper