This time of year, there is lots of sun exposure, fun on the water and predictable afternoon showers. For the avid fisherman, tarpon fishing is the fourth thing that comes to mind. From searching for crabs and squirrel fish to tying long leaders onto heavy lead sinkers, the experience is addictive. Even though tarpon is a catch and release only species, it is extremely popular. These fish by now are well within their spawning patterns and eating everything in sight.
Tarpon have a great reputation for their performance abilities when being hooked into. Most favored of these abilities are the powerful runs and acrobatic jumps displayed by the fish at the end of the line. Some anglers go to great lengths just to hopefully hook into one. Other more experienced anglers do very well.
Depending on who you talk to, the ins and outs of fishing for tarpon can get complex. However, some of the most popular methods used are very simple to learn and perform. Locating tarpon right now is as easy as it gets. Beaches, passes and flats adjacent to land are all productive. On rising and falling tides, tarpon will be found on and around points, holes and the occasional sandbar. On the beaches, if possible, you want to target the areas closer to passes. This does not mean that the areas away from passes don’t hold tarpon, it just means your chances are better the closer you are. Passes hold many tarpon this time of year, especially due to their spawn that starts in May and ends in late Summer.
For the flats anglers who possess a talent for skimming through inches of water to cast at one fish, and those who enjoy spending their paychecks snagging mangrove roots and branches, juvenile tarpon are a hit. When fishing for juvenile tarpon, I recommend free-lining live or cut scaled sardines within the target area or “strike-zone” using 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 3/0 hook. The addition of a few split-shot may be necessary to keep baits in the specific location during stronger tides.
The phrase “match the hatch” is a tried and true method used to select the proper bait for fishing any given area. The waters of Tampa Bay are now filled with squirrel fish, also known as “sand perch”. These little palm size bait stealers are candy for tarpon, especially when their numbers are high in “tarpon territory.” I predict the Tarpon fishing to remain stellar through the next few months, leading into the second season of the year.