Tarpon On Foot – The Land Based Alternative By: Josh Broer

When we think about tarpon fishing, we usually picture a boat near a beach, pass or bridge.  The livewell is filled with threadfin herring or pass crabs–both go-to live baits. The image of a giant silver fish launching into the air, then tearing a huge hole in the water comes to mind. The exhilarating jumps and exhausting fights can last for an hour or more. These iconic images drive tarpon fishermen to great lengths to fuel their passion for the mighty silver king.  But, there’s another way to get in on the action that doesn’t require a boat, getting up at first light or dealing with boat ramp chaos.

Megalops Atlanticus is the scientific name for Tarpon, though we often call them silver kings and poons. Fishing for tarpon on foot is not a new game, just a pursuit that is not as sexy or popular as fishing from a boat.  If you flip through a magazine or scroll through Facebook or Instagram, you’ll certainly see more pics of large fish alongside the boat and an angler posing with a hero grin.  This is still the mountaintop when it comes to landing a monster tarpon migrating down the beach. However, this method often takes a considerable amount of time, money and patience.

For those of you familiar with land-based tarpon fishing, this may be nothing new.  But for those of you not familiar with this other silver king game, it’s a great alternative that will still bring the excitement that comes with being on the open water.  In much of Florida, on both coasts, we have endless brackish water rivers, spillways and bayous that hold tarpon–sometimes year-round.  Many of these haunts are rain dependent.  The big summer storms that push water into these backcountry areas are often the key to bringing this unique fishery alive.

June through September, when our familiar late afternoon thunderstorms pound the Tampa Bay area, these land-based spots fire up.  You’ll often find a variety of tarpon here.  Some of these fish are full grown monsters looking for an easy meal of baitfish stirred up in the storms.  Most of these fish, however, are micro to juvenile size who are also looking for an easy meal.  Many are resident fish who enjoy these spots free of open-water predators.  These places make a great habitat for tarpon to thrive and grow before heading out to sea.

When the big summer rains hit, I’ll throw two or three light to medium spinning combos in my truck and hit the road.  A good setup is a seven-to-eight-foot spinning rod matched with a 3000 or 4000 size reel.  Leaders are typically 30-pound test, but some structure heavy areas require beefing up to 50-pound test or more. Many of these backwater spots are loaded with rocks, hanging branches and other unseen snags.  Pair that with the tarpon’s rough sandpaper mouth and it’s enough to destroy the toughest of rigs.  Almost any soft plastic swim bait on a 1/8 to 1/2-ounce jig head will do the trick. Some folks use hard-body lures which can be effective, but those treble hooks can be trouble for both you and the fish.

When picking a spot, you only need a saltwater presence and moving water.  Rivers and spillways are two of the most popular places.  Look for bait.  Tarpon are drawn here, because the bait is thick–a never-ending buffet line.  If you pull up to a spot, be respectful of anglers already there.  Just like the boat scene, it’s important to practice good etiquette on foot.  If someone is there before you, it’s often best to just move on to another location. With that in mind, get ready for the big summer storms, and a fast and furious bite that might change the way you think about tarpon fishing.