Tarpon are one of, if not the most, exciting game fish to catch, and you don’t need a boat!
They fly through the air, dive for the bottom and streak to the horizon in an attempt to throw your hook. Just when you think you have them whipped they always make a couple of last runs.
I have caught tarpon on top water lures, jigs with trailers, sub surface lures, shrimp, crabs, greenies, mullet, and bunker. I have also been in the midst of schools gulping air on the surface and then diving to the bottom and could not get a bite. You not only have to find them, you have to hope that when you do they are hungry.
Like most fish, they bite most readily at dawn and dusk but they can be caught 24 hours a day if you find a hungry one. One of the keys to finding them is water temperature. As autumn progresses, they move south from their expanded summer playgrounds in the Carolinas and the northern gulf coast. Their ideal water temperature is north of 75 degrees and they will keep moving until they find it.
Usually the winter months will find them headed for Cancun like so many Yankees seeking sun and cerveza’s. They also can be found in the Keys and in deepwater inlets around Miami where they feed on the shrimp floating out of the bays with the tide at night.
The best bait is what they are feeding on at the moment. That could be shrimp, mullet, greenies or whatever baitfish is schooling. They go crazy each year over a worm hatch which occurs in the Keys. They rarely will refuse a well placed silver dollar sized crab (unless they aren’t hungry). For some reason I don’t have luck with larger sized live baits, four or five inches is as big as I get bites on, and these tarpon can be a hundred pounds or more.
As to tackle, make sure you have a rod with some back bone to it. Your reel needs to have a solid and smooth drag, and the minimum line you should consider is 15 pound test. If going with line this light, prepare for a battle that can easily last an hour, and if you are using light tackle, you better have a boat or he will spool you.
When fighting the fish you have to get down and dirty. If he’s swimming to the right, pull him to the left, swimming left – pull to the right. If he’s swimming straight away, hang on tight and chase him if you can. There will be numerous times throughout the fight where he (or she) just stops dead in the water, this is where you need to win the battle. Don’t stop and catch your breath. You will be exhausted and soaked with sweat, but don’t rest. Hammer him, he is only stopping because he’s also exhausted and you don’t want him to be able to regain strength.
There is a famous saying among those who fish for tarpon “bow to the king”. This comes from the nickname for tarpon – silver king, and the need to provide slack in the line when they do their inevitable jumps. As soon as you see him coming out of the water you need to point the tip of your rod straight at the fish. Bend over and reach out as far as you can to lessen the chance of him crashing down on your tight line and breaking it.
by Greg Knox