The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 17 No. 35 - June 14, 2017

reel time

Tarpon tactics

Reel time


Thrusting the rod forward too relieve pressure on the line
"bowing to the king"helps prevent a leaping tarpon from breaking the leader.


Tarpon season is now in full swing, although the weather has been some of the worst in recent memory. High winds, rain and cloudy water have all but made tarpon fishing impossible along the beaches. That weather pattern isn't finished yet and the forecast for this week, while better, has three days with an 80 percent chance of rain. The good news is that winds look to be light, which will at least make it possible to explore the Gulf waters. With the limited amount of opportunities, anglers need to make the best of their efforts. Let's look at some tactics that will help anglers using fly and conventional tackle to target tarpon.

Conventional Anglers

Anglers using conventional tackle will have a better chance of hooking and landing a tarpon if they pay close attention to rigging. Proper, well tied and carefully seated knots, properly set drags and sharp hooks are critical. One tactic a novice tarpon angler can use is to tie on a circle hook. Originally developed for commercial longline fishermen, the hook doesn't need to be set. All the angler has to do is let the line come tight and start reeling. This will improve the odds for newcomers as well as more experienced anglers.

Spotting tarpon and getting into position for a shot is key as well, and there are a few tactics that will make this more productive. If you're looking for tarpon in the morning, work close to the beach looking west with the sun at your back for better visibility. The opposite is true in the afternoon when the sun is in the west. Besides not having to look into the sun, the light reflecting off the tarpon's silver scales is often reflected like a mirror.

Once fish are spotted the angler has to be positioned correctly to make a presentation. The proper way is to get well ahead of a school, line up in their path and wait for them to come to you. By not running your motor near a school, you don't risk spooking them. If there are no other boats present, it's possible to track the school with a trolling motor getting multiple shots. When a tarpon is hooked, if you hope to get it to the boat for a photograph before releasing it you need to apply the maximum pressure that your tackle will allow. By fighting tarpon hard from the hookup to the boat you stand a much better chance of landing them. When a tarpon jumps, it's important to thrust your rod forward to release the tension on the line. If a fish falls on a tight line, there's a good chance that the line will part. After the hookup most tarpon make a long initial run. Once you're sure you have a good hook set, motor as close to the fish as possible keeping the line tight by applying minimum pressure. Once close to the fish you can apply maximum pressure, avoiding line stretch and giving you a better chance at actually catching the tarpon. This is also much better for the tarpon.

Fly Anglers

The tactics mentioned above for conventional anglers also apply to fly anglers. The main difference between the two is how they position themselves. Experienced fly anglers find a distinct edge in shallow water where tarpon track and are visible. Anchoring with a quick release system and float allows the angler to quickly release from the anchor when a tarpon is hooked or a quick move is required. Patience pays dividends for fly fishers, and the most experienced anglers anchor and wait for the fish to come to them. A move is only made if fish are seen tracking out of casting range. Then only a short move is generally required. While some fly anglers use a trolling motor to position themselves for an approaching school or fish, experience has shown that it's better to stay on the anchor. This point is driven home when you leave the anchor to chase fish only to look back and see fish where you just left. If you do use a trolling motor in shallow water, it can't be anywhere close to fish. The best way to move is on the push pole. It's a much stealthier approach and will produce superior results. One tactic that can be effective is to anchor on a long line. This allows you to make adjustments to your position with a push pole without having to unhook from the anchor.

Whether you fish with conventional tackle or fly tackle, proper technique improves the odds of getting hooked up. There's no other fish that swims that puts up such a spectacular fight and is so accessible to the average angler. If you're new to the sport, I would highly advise the services of a local guide. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you can learn a wealth of information that will make your tarpon fishing days much more fun and productive.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper