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tips and techniques for tarpon

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On: Fri, Jul 18, 2008 at 12:57PM | By: BoatUS

Tarpon were reported popping up off the beaches of Venice and Englewood unusually early this year—and it really wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. Even though they’ve become hard to locate recently, it won’t be very long at all until they’re greyhounding by the thousands across the nearshore water off Casperson, Grassy Point and Stump Pass. That means anglers have to be ready! Tackle is, of course, of paramount importance.

Migrating Tarpon come here from who-knows-where to spawn in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 miles offshore. These are fish that range from 100 pounds to nearly 200. Most of them caught are between 100 and 150. That means rods must be heavy-duty. Put away the flimsy sticks that did so well on Spotted Sea Trout or Bream all winter. Same for the medium or medium-heavy gear that whipped tailing Redfish or Snook under the lights. What we’re talking here is a “telephone pole” that has enough backbone to lift these prehistoric creatures to the surface. Speaking of “lifting,” be aware that the Fish and Wildlife Commission has changed the rules regarding “possession” of Tarpon. It’s now defined as “possession” if you even lift a Tarpon from the water to take photos. That requires a $50 Tarpon tag, or you might get handed a different sort of “tag” from your friendly FWC Officer. Speaking of “possession,” there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to ever kill a Tarpon. These wonderful animals can live as many as 80 years, and face myriad challenges from Barracuda, Mackerel, Cobia, and—ultimately—Hammerhead Sharks to survive even their first year of existence. Please don’t waste this incredible gamefish because of misplaced pride. Today’s reproduction mounts are far superior to any of the old-fashioned “skin mounts.” A local taxidermist can give you all the details.

Okay. I’ll climb off my soapbox now! Next in importance are reels. Tarpon require a top-notch drag system capable of slowing down these magnificent animals in order to avoid losing 300 yards of 20-pound monofilament. So do yourself a favor: spend the money for a top-quality reel. Please don’t use heavier line, because eventually something will have to break. Get the idea? If you’re interested in a “record” fish, the International Gamefish Association (IGFA) categories for Tarpon are 12-pound, 16-pound, and 20-pound “class” tippets. This is the end of the line that joins an 80-pound or even 100-pound “shock” tippet, to which the bait or fly is attached. A word of advice. Make sure to use a “Bimini Twist” between your running line and the “shock” tippet. The “Bimini” is like a shock-absorber to help relieve pressure on the rod when a big Tarpon gulps down a, well, Gulp! or a live crab (the preferred Tarpon bait), or live pinfish. If you don’t know how to tie one, visit your local tackle shop for help. Some shops, such as Casey Key Anglers & Outfitters in Nokomis, already have them pre-made. Fly fishing for Tarpon also is an option, and is generally considered the ultimate in terms of sport and challenge when it comes to Tarpon fishing. Either way, successful Tarpon fishing demands stealth. Watch the professional guides. They anchor off the barrier islands and wait patiently for pods of Tarpon to swim within casting range. Sometimes a slight correction is necessary, and that’s accomplished by setting the trolling motor at its lowest effective speed. Tie a bumper or float to your anchor line so that you can slip the line and later return to your anchor. It’s a good idea to mark the bumper with your name and phone number. Just to avoid “confusion” by other boaters regarding ownership rights. Believe this above all else: Turn on your big motor when Tarpon are approaching and the next time you’ll see them will be in Cuba! Nor can you ever “chase” Tarpon—except into the path of the next boat in line. Even then, they’ll be so freaked-out that they won’t bother stopping to eat a bait or fly. Trolling is the Ultimate Kiss of Death. Tarpon HATE motors. Troll through the pod and they’ll scatter or drop to the bottom in complete fear. Which obviously ruins the fishing for everyone within two miles! When it comes to Tarpon, silence is golden.

Capt. Tony Petrella guides fly and light tackle anglers in Florida most of the year, then guides inland Trout, and Grouse hunters, in northern Michigan.


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