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live bait tarpon fishing
Nick and I had the plan in place. It was time for another short evening trip. We didn’t even have to leave work early. A late hill tide, crab flush and fairly calm seas was the recipe for tarpon, at least in our minds.
After meeting up at the marina at five thirty, we loaded up what little gear is normally brought for our “short trips” and moved out as quickly as possible. After heading out of the channel, Nick and I quickly figured out the plan for calm seas was out. The bay wasn’t filled with white caps but the rollers were like being in a washing machine, spaced out and with no particular pattern. The tide was moving out fast and the west sea breeze had kicked in. These conditions are par for the course when we fish. It never fails, but if successful, the ride is worth it. If not, you’re all wet.
Following an uncomfortable ride we make it to the Skyway Bridge and start looking for crabs. Having no bait is a bad feeling, so we scoured the waters for a few pass crabs to start fishing with; more would float by later. After agreeing that four was the magic number to start fishing with, the dip nets were out and the four crabs we needed had their claws removed and were in the livewell.
The boat was set up to account for the wind and tide and made for a great drift through the weedline, covering major ground. My first cast was out, taking the pass crab for a ride through the rough water, further out than I thought. Next thing I know, line is pulling off the spool and ripped through the skin on my thumb, barely allowing me to close the bail. After closing the bail with a bloody thumb, the battle began.
Being that a good amount of braid was already out, I had to regain some line and in between, try to keep the numerous jumps of the fish from throwing the hook. Nick drove me closer to the tarpon, threw it in neutral, and we let the fish do most of the work, pulling the boat against the tide, wearing her out. Mainly staying on top of the water and out of the channel, we made short work of this silver king after about twenty minutes and had her boatside for a few photos. What a stout fish! After reviving her, the boat was quickly positioned for another drift. That was crab number one.
On the second drift, Nick threw his crab out and I set up on the bow to look for more bait. After no luck I figured I would fish crab number three, as Nick had number two on his hook. On this second drift rolling tarpon were visible in the distance, and our crabs were heading right for them. Nick gets bit so I reeled in and cranked up the motor. After two jumps the fish spit the hook and swam free. That was a heartbreaker, but we had a good drift down. That was crab number two.
Nick and I made a few more drifts and had no luck. Not wanting to be out on the water too late, and thirsty for a few frosty beverages, the plan was one more drift through the weedline. I still had our third pass crab alive on my hook and he had placed the last bait securely on his hook. We worked our drift and were just about out of the strike zone when his phone rang. After a brief conversation with a loved one, Nick gets off the phone and we plan to call it a day, that is after Nick reeled in the fish that had his Redbone doubled over in the rod holder.
After getting out of the way and putting Nick on the bow, I drove around while taking pictures and chasing the fish down. This king made some great jumps but didn’t run as much as the first two. The girl liked the bottom of the channel more than the top of the water column, so Nick and I pretty much sat idle while he played tug of war. After some acrobatics by this hefty fish and a few leader grabs, she was boatside and released, again, after about twenty minutes.
Crab number four was gone, and crab number three got thrown back in the bay.
The wind had calmed down; we toasted with a couple of beers and reflected on another great trip. Riding back to the marina in calm seas with the sun just starting to set was the perfect ending.
Four crabs and three fish.
Check out my other ramblings at INSHOREINSIDER.COM
I wrote an article based on fishing for tarpon for saltyshores.com, after some excellent, as well as frustrating times fishing for the silver king. The article was written to help someone like myself, a first year poon fisherman, a freshman. The piece was titled Tarpon 101-Getting Started.
I felt like writing a little more this season, pretty much the same information, but from another point of view, and not as detailed. This time from a sophomore tarpon fisherman; my freshman year was passed, barely.
So, it’s almost here, the summer long party most of us are already drooling over. The annual migration of tarpon to the Tampa Bay area is just weeks away. Most of us hardcore junkies are already prepping our gear in anticipation. Hell; I already strategically took half days off of work throughout the season in order to get my time in on the water, of course based on tides and moon phases. I have to; the fever makes you sick, and will keep you coming back. This years plan is to come back with revenge, after all the knowledge that was acquired last year, I really need to land more fish. Getting schooled by these beasts is common and frustrating, but brings me back for more.
I am already buying all my gear so I am ready. Being able to pick up at the drop of a hat and fish for the king is my plan. Hooks, dip nets, gloves, leader, and an anchor ball-all are being gathered up at this time. Maybe even a new rod and reel. All this gear will be in a separate tackle bag and the boat will be straightened up so only mainly tarpon gear is onboard. I want to keep the boat as cleared out as possible.
Last year my total was only two for twelve, having jumped my last three in October, and losing the last one on a hell of a jump, by a hundred pound class fish. Ever since, I have replayed that day in my head and I’m going to be back with a passion. Most of you seasoned veterans consider two for twelve just a bad day, not a bad year. Being a rookie was tough, I had to pay my dues, and last years weather wasn’t the greatest either. Adding to it, the whole job thing didn’t help me get out on the water.
So how have my plans changed from my freshman to sophomore year? Well, let’s go over it. To read my first article, Tarpon 101, just click the link; it’s great for the beginner. This article here is not as in depth.
First on the list is to get down to Boca Grande. My knowledge of the etiquette (if there is any) and Boca’s waters is non existent. I wouldn’t know what to do in that mess of boats, being afraid to hit a vessel or vice versa, as well the rough conditions. The boat I have could not handle some of the slop out there. I hope to find someone to head down there with so I can try to get some great pictures and land a few fish.
That being said, my gear preparation for the year is pretty much as follows.
The hooks I will be using this year will be owner 6/0 SSW circle hooks. These hooks have been recommended to me from a few well known fishing guides, are very sharp and have good strength. When you tighten that drag down to land your fish, a broken hook will bring tears to the eyes. Don’t skimp on the hook as I did before, it’s a shame to lose a fish due to equipment failure.
As far as braid or line in general goes, forty to fifty pound tests will be the highest in use. One of my reels may have forty pound mono for soaking baits and the occasional by catch grouper or cobia. Last year, I was using sixty five and it limited my casting ability; many rolling poons were missed because of this. Use whatever brand you are comfortable with. Sixty five pound is fine if you are just soaking bait, but if casting numerous times or sight fishing is the plan, bigger is not better.
When considering leader, I really don’t put too much thought in it. Maybe I should. Of course I am using fluorocarbon leader, for me the brand does not really matter. Yozuri and comparable brands are fine. Sticking to fifty and sixty pound test is my plan. Observing other fisherman using eighty pound test while I was using sixty seemed to make a dramatic difference. If I’m sitting there jumping three tarpon in a row on sixty with a buddy not getting bit at all with eighty, I’m sticking with my sixty. No leaders have broken on me, and have held up well.
With my knots, I have tried a few and had success with all. For the line to leader knot I have been using a bimini twist and a slim beauty combo, and to attach the leader to the hook an improved clinch knot has been my “go to” knot. Another knot that was working was a uni to uni knot with the improved clinch knot. Experiment with knots. See what fits you best. A good site to go to is www.netknots.com.
Bait that I will be looking for will be big threadfins at the bridges and markers, or hand sized pinfish on the flats. I have had more luck with pinfish but both will do. I won’t be spending too much time netting up bait this year, as I will be waiting for the crabs to flush on those strong outgoing tides. Diversity never hurts though, so while waiting for the tide to move bait will be gathered up.
Nets. No, not for the fish, for the pass crabs. I need to buy a couple long handled dip nets to scoop up those critters. This will be discussed later. These nets are usually only about fifteen bucks each and it’s best to have two depending on how many are on the vessel. Scooping up extra crabs faster will give you more time to fish.
A quality rod and reel combination is my toughest obstacle this year. Why lie. Money is tight, as with most others, and top of the line equipment is not in my arsenal. Both of my tarpon rods are of excellent quality and are custom made, but the reels are not. A new combo is preferred. These tarpon will put a hurting on your gear. It’s been on my mind in the recent months that I may have an internal failure with my Okuma Avenger reel. Don’t get me wrong, it works, and no case has been made for this fear, but I would like to get a new setup that is very dependable, and use the Okuma set up as a back up. We will see if I can put some money together; if not I will just have to make due.
The conditions I am looking for this year are simple. No wind, no rain and calm seas, with strong tides. Of course, the pieces to this puzzle will probably not come together on most trips. Honestly, concentrating on the new and full moon hill tides will be the main goal. These tides create weed lines that flush pass crabs out of the backcountry of the bay. Pass crabs are a favorite snack of the silver king. Mainly I will be staking out areas near bridges, passes and shipping channels looking for these weed lines and pass crabs. The area with the best “crab flush” should hold the most tarpon. While scouting out the areas, scooping up the crabs will start, but one can get away with picking up a couple dozen and staking out, looking for the poons. If you’re in the right area, the crabs will pass right by the boat. Wasting too much time on pass crabs will waste too much valuable fishing time.
My fishing style this year will change too. Good luck was had at the end of the previous season sight fishing for the massive poons. Normally I would just stake out an area and wait, or pull drifts and wait, still casting all over the place. If there are not a massive amount of boats around, scouting will be something that has to be done. Hunting these big fish is on the agenda, not just waiting for them to come to me. After I get over the high of jumping a tarpon, concentrating on fighting the fish and landing it quickly is a very important thing for me to keep in mind. Remembering to “bow to the king”, as well as turning the fish at the right time and rod placement must be areas of the fight I pay close attention to. Most of my tarpon were lost last year due to forgetting these tactics. Remember, these aren’t snook.
Fishing for the silver king with seasoned anglers has given me a good idea of the etiquette required when out on the water. Really, this is just common sense. Like the old saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans”, definitely applies. When you see everyone drifting in a pattern, follow it. If everyone is anchored up, do the same thing. Pay attention to what is going on around you and make way for people that are hooked up. A little common sense goes a long way and will end up helping everyone on the water.
I’m ready, and have been ready. Ready for the winds, choppy seas and storm dodging, ready to throw down and chase these bad ass fish all over the bay for that exhilarating feeling of dethroning the king, and of course, ready for the anguish of losing a thirty minute battle, reflecting on it with arms so sore they can hardly hold a beer.
Hopefully this will give you a perspective of my state of mind for this season. If you are a novice, read Tarpon 101, what I am talking about will make more sense. Good luck out there, have fun, and be safe!