Tarpon Are on The Move -- So Are the Sharks April 18 2013, 0 Comments

It's prime time to fish for Tarpon in South Florida. These "Silver Kings" are one of the most sought after catches by anglers throughout the world. The first trick is finding them. The second is getting one on your line. And lastly, getting one of these unmatched fierce fighters to the boat for a leader touch is a life catch for sure. I know, because I've boated a few in my day. Each time I've hooked up, I marvel at the pure strength, fight and acrobatic display of these incredible fish. And the bigger they are the harder they fall. Even with the latest high stealth gear, plan on an hour plus fight when a 135+ pounder is on the line. These bad boys and girls deliver a work-out that even your aerobics instructor would like to duplicate. Then after a post fight soothe down they are released to fight another day. You gotta try it!

To keep you on your toes, where there are Tarpon, sharks are generally in the vicinity. And, when hooked, while they usually don't go airborne with head shakes like the Silver Kings and Queens, they will give you a fight to remember. Just last week in a couple of outings, we hooked up with two decent sized Hammerheads and three Blacks Tips. The latter is considered a delicacy to eat by some. However, we released them to live another day. While sharks can be a pain in the rear when trying to get a Tarpon, they nonetheless are magnificent creatures. Come on down and we'll likely get one on so you can see first hand what I'm talking about.

Late April and early May is when Tarpon generally make their first appearance in the Sanibel area. By mid to late May, the action is at its height but continues throughout the summer and even into September.

On the Hey Mon, we continue to study the habits of Tarpon and just get out on the water with them.  At times, we have been teaming up with Captain Clarence Reed of Sea Reed Charters. Working with fellow guides is invaluable for increasing opportunities to get on fish for our clients. And that's what it's all about. Working various water depths and watching for surface bait pods and birds can be paramount in finding good Tarpon lanes on any given day. (Tarpon usually travel in packs so when one is spotted, there's a good chance there are more in the area and they are moving along the coast in lanes from one area to the next after some serious eating and spawning.) Several Professional Guides can cover more water area and appraise each other of where tarpon are congregating on any given day. Now that being said, like all fishing, just about the time you think you have a certain species figured out, they'll fool you. Tarpon can be prolific one day and nonexistent the next for reasons no one fully knows.

Just one example of a memorable Tarpon day was recently with Dennis from Detroit, Michigan. While Dennis had caught a few Tarpon in his days on the water, he never had one over 100 pounds. That all changed in one hook-up. Using live thread fins (also know as Greenbacks), these bait fish, along with crabs, are nectar of the fish god's fare for Tarpon. If you're fortunate enough to be able to toss a line baited with a thread fin or sister pilchard into pool of surface baits, get ready for action. Tarpon instinctively wait for one of these little guys to get separated from the school and then pounce for a meal. So when the bait pod moves along that leaves bait on a hook a welcome and enticing appetizer. And on the Hey Mon, that's precisely what happened. A bait pod sighted near the boat, we casted into it and within one minute the drag on the Penn Conqueror 7000 with 65 braid and 80 lb. fluorocarbon line started to scream. A flurry of reels got the 6 ought circle hook properly hooked into the Tarpon's armor plated mouth. The fight was on!  A quick note about circle hooks. Instead of conventional "j" hooks and you haul back to set the hook, with circle hooks (looks like a closed "c"), you reel like there is no tomorrow. This allows for the hook to exit the internals of a fish without potentially damaging it, and still get a hook-up.

Quite often, right after a Tarpon is hooked up, they'll go airborne with head shakes so massive they'll boggle your mind.  When this happens, it is crucial to "Bow to the Tarpon" (drop your rod tip towards the fish to slacken line) or it's likely game over and the Tarpon is gone. If you are lucky to stay hooked-up, then you have to hope the line and leader hold and the Tarpon's knife sharp gill plate doesn't cut the line. By the way, I use a what's called a Slim Beauty knot to effectively join my 65# braid line and 85# fluorocarbon leader together. It's one of the most highly recommended knots to avoid separation. (Which can be pretty embarrassing if it happens, not to mention having a client who likely wants to have you for lunch sans a tip.)

Back to Dennis from Detroit. He's got that Tarpon on and it goes airborne. We see it is a very large fish and he does the perfect bow to keep it on the line after a massive first jump from the water. I figure it's a legit 150 lb fish. (Any Tarpon over 125 lbs. is considered to be big one. Complete hogs are 150-170 lbs. and once in a blue moon they can exceed 200 lbs.) Anyway, so far, so good. I fire up the 225 HP Yamaha on the Hey Mon and the chase is on before all the braided line is spooled that's screaming off the reel even with a nice drag set. Another sign this is a big fish. For the next hour I watch Dennis, who's no small dude at about 6'3', 210 lbs., battle this bad girl while I'm constantly maneuvering the boat to ensure there is no contact with the fish, rod or line with the hull. When the fight is over, Dennis has won the battle and the beautiful Silver Queen, after a rest lumbers off into the depths. Perspiring and expended, Dennis happily agrees to end the day with a celebratory pitcher of beer at the Waterfront Bar in St. James City. It was a refreshing finish to a memorable day.

Since my wife, Barb, and I head back to Minnesota for three months starting in June each year, Captain Clarence will take my client referrals for Tarpon and backwater fishing. Having used many many guides over the years, Clarence is one of the best, bar none. And he's a great guy to hang out with to boot. Just give me a call and I'll get you in touch with each other.

As much as I enjoy going back to Minnesota, I'm already looking forward to being back in Florida around the middle of September. The Tarpon will likely be around and the backwater fishing will be fantastic right through the end of the year. And because there are fewer people around and boats out, it's beautiful cruising weather to hang with some dolphins or watch a spectacular sunset on the Gulf. So, get a trip set-up with business associates, family members or friends and get on down here. The Hey Mon is ready for good times, no worries and just a lot of fun.