South Shore Tampa Bay Report–Finding Tarpon in Tampa Bay By: Capt. Christopher Taylor

Tampa Bay is home to many resident tarpon year-round.  However, the main population of tarpon during the year are migratory fish.  Migratory tarpon spend the winter in the Caribbean and move north during the spring. Tarpon follow baitfish into passes and bays to feed before heading offshore to spawn.

Passes are great places to find migratory tarpon looking to eat before swimming offshore to spawn. Egmont Key pass is best fished on hill tides. For best results, free line dollar sized blue or pass crabs during a hard outgoing tide.  On rare occasions, small pinfish will work. When tarpon fishing Egmont Key, it is all about the drift. Cast your baits away from your boat and out of the way of other tarpon anglers fishing the drift. The starting point for anglers is the concrete dock on the northeast side of the Island. The best way to gauge how to fish and where to set up in the drift is to take a moment and observe other anglers. Position your boat in the drift and proceed to fish. Using spinning equipment and free lining pass crabs, cast as far as you can up current and away from your boat. The idea is to have your bait drift as naturally as possible without dragging.

The Skyway Bridge holds large numbers of baitfish for hungry tarpon. There are many ways to fish the Skyway Bridge. The most effective way is the free lining of live threadfin herring. When fishing the Skyway, it is important to “match the hatch.” Threadfin herring is the summertime staple. By using a quality cast net like a Pro Series – Humpback by Lee Fisher Sports, you can catch as much bait as you want at the bridge. You will want to anchor your boat so the current draws your bait towards the bridge, not away from the bridge. Once anchored, a float should be attached to the anchor line. This way the anchor can be cast off when pursuit of tarpon begins. When fishing the bridge, cast towards the center of a piling and open your bail to allow the bait to be swept around the side. Retrieve your bait before it reaches the back of the piling or the line will become snagged. Continue this process until you have a bite.

The Don Cesar is an awesome spot for tarpon fishing in the summer. Fish outside the “no boat” markers along the sand bars in deeper water troughs. Early morning is ideal and light chop conditions help when dealing with spooky tarpon. After locating rolling tarpon, set up in the area and allow the tarpon to come to you. Cork or free line with live bait often does the trick. Silver Dollar sized pinfish and blue crabs are the ticket. Tarpon fishing along the beach of the Don Cesar can be an absolute blast in the summer.

Tampa Bay holds great structure that attracts the baitfish tarpon eat. These inner bay reefs are little known for their tarpon by most. The best way to catch reef tarpon is by anchoring uptide of the structure and soaking chunks of dead bait such as mullet or Spanish mackerel. Another popular method is cutting up threadfin herring, creating a chum line and freelining the occasional piece–just watch out for the mackerel.