During the Fall months, targeting tarpon can be challenging. During the majority of the summer, you can find tarpon just about anywhere in the Bay–passes, beaches, mangrove estuaries and grass flats. As the water temperature drops, resident juvenile tarpon start to make their way toward the rivers, creeks and canals in search of warmer water havens for their winter stay.
When fishing rivers, you want to fish areas that have decent tidal flow and a significant change in depth. An example would be a point or bend in a river that drops off close to the mangroves or shoreline. Tarpon instinctively take advantage of trenches, drop-offs and potholes in high current areas of rivers because they can ambush bait easily and stay warm. Many of the residential canals located on the Hillsborough side of the Bay are sure to hold juvenile tarpon.
Fishing docks and seawalls can be very productive day or night. When fishing docks at night, you want to take advantage of lights as many baitfish are attracted to them. This makes for an all-you-can-eat buffet for juvenile tarpon. Scaled sardines and live shrimp are your best bet for bait this time of year. You can find live shrimp at just about any bait and tackle store in the area. Some bait shops sell scaled sardines but, most of the time, you have to use a cast net to catch them. I recommend catching enough to use for bait as well as a few extra to throw as chum. You will be able to find these baitfish at the channel markers and shallow-to-deep transition areas nearest boat channels. I use a 10-foot Humpback cast net to gather my bait.
When Tarpon become lethargic from the cooler water temperatures, cut bait on the bottom makes for a more tempting and easier meal. I present my baits with a 2/0 hook free-lined on 25-pound test fluorocarbon leader. The addition of a few split shot weights may be necessary when fishing areas with current.
When it comes to Tarpon lures, top water plugs are hard to beat. Working a plug on top of the water and watching a juvenile tarpon explode on it is probably one of the most exciting sites that you can experience in Tampa Bay, second to tarpon fishing during the big migration in May. My favorite top water lure is the Livingston Lures Pro Sizzle in bone/silver color. This lure is always on my boat. It is safe to say that many anglers develop their own techniques for catching juvenile tarpon during the different seasons. Getting out on the water and casting a line is the one tried and true way to do this. Tarpon are some of the most sought after inshore sport fish, and many times the most challenging to catch. Tampa Bay is home to some of Florida’s Greatest tarpon fishing year-round. Feel free to use the information from this article, tips from Bay area bait stores and other anglers. Local tarpon guides are always available for hire throughout Tampa Bay.