Tarpon Time in Southwest Florida, by Capt. Terry Fisher

Juvenile tarpon caught inshore fishing with Fish Face Charters.


Warm waters have dominated our area all winter long and Tarpon are here in good numbers. I do not profess to be a tarpon expert, but I feel really good about my client’s chances of hooking up and/or catching a Silver King. I have hooked up and caught my share of these fighting fish. There are a lot of different fishing techniques utilized to target them.

One effective technique is to fish off the outer islands (Sanibel and Captiva). My range is anywhere from 1 to 10 miles out. I look for ‘rolling’ fish (or other boats fishing for them) and position myself upstream in an effort to be in the area as they move northward toward me. I place presentations behind the boat with one under a balloon or big cork and the other on the bottom. I utilize my Minn-Kota trolling motor to hold the baits in place anywhere from 40’ to 90’ behind the vessel (one presentation short and one presentation long). Shark and tarpon alike will be receptive to the above strategy, offering the possibility of additional angling action. To increase shark hookups, simply cut the baits to draw a little bit of blood and chum cut baits from time to time.

The baits I use consist of live threadfins, pinfish, mullet or ladyfish under the balloon or cork with a 3 to 4 foot 100 lb. fluorocarbon leader. Balloons are better as the fish will not tangle the lines around the cork. I place a dead pinfish, mullet, catfish fillet or ladyfish on the bottom presentation. I keep the bait on the seabed by placing a 1oz. ‘folding’ pinch weight approximately 3ft. above a 7/0 circle hook (I prefer the larger circle hooks over the small ones, regardless of the presentation). This technique may be used in Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound as well. Inside passes will offer plenty of opportunity. Those that do not have vessels with trolling motors, anchor down.

Another effective presentation is to find a school of ‘rolling’ tarpon and ‘free-line’ threadfins to them. This may be done both offshore and inshore. The tarpon can be anywhere. The problem with this technique, is that usually there will be plenty of other boats targeting the same school and getting a ‘hookup’ may be few and far between, if any! I am reminded of the old, western pictures, whereby the Indians surround the wagon train. Nonetheless, watching the rolling tarpon may be worth the experience in itself, especially for those who have never seen them.

Naturally, while Boca Grande may be the ‘centerpiece’ of tarpon action for many, it is not for the ‘faint of heart’. Numerous boats scramble for position, constantly moving and relocating for the opportunity to spot them on their sonars and dropping jigs to them, while others cast threadfins at the big rolling schools of giant tarpon. Know and understand the rules for fishing this pass, as only 3 anglers are allowed to have lines in the water at once and ‘snagging’ is prohibited. However, it may be worth experiencing and witnessing for those who have never fished Boca Grande Pass!

Unfortunately, only one or two, out of approximately ten hook ups, result in landing one of these sought-after game fish. I prefer to fish early morning for tarpon. I like to combine my April tarpon charters with an afternoon of ‘back-county’ fishing for snook and redfish. This way, anglers get plenty of diversification and a lot better opportunity to catch game fish. I find this works really well for those who prefer not to spend 8 hours chasing tarpon.

In regards to equipment, my arsenal consists of Shimano 8000 and Penn 6000 series reels loaded with 65lb braid. The rods are 20-40lb. rated butt strength and are 8ft. long. The reason I use and recommend 8’ rods, are for maneuvering around the boat, over the center console and motor when a fish is on. As mentioned earlier, I attach a 100lb. fluorocarbon leader the length of the fish I expect to catch. My circle hooks run anywhere from 7/0 to 9/0. The baits of choice are mentioned above.

Anglers not able or interested in fishing exclusively for tarpon are not to be discouraged. There are plenty of small ‘resident’ and ‘migratory’ tarpon willing to take shrimp, artificial and small baitfish presentations on the flats and around the mangroves. I have hooked and caught a number of tarpon in the canals of Cape Coral, on the flats of Pine Island Sound, and around mangrove areas while fishing for redfish, snook and seatrout.  These tarpon are usually smaller, but will put up a good fight and test any angler’s ability on lighter tackle.

This is Captain Terry Fisher of Fish Face Charters wishing everyone ‘tighter’ lines in April, regardless of the species you are fishing for. Hopefully a tarpon will be added to your ‘fishing folio’. I am available as Captain for Hire on your vessel by the hour or contact me at 239-357-6829 to schedule a fishing charter on my new Pathfinder 23 HPS for the species of your choice. Email any request to fishfacecharters@yahoo.com or check out my website at www.fishfacecharters.com for charter information. Check out my regular fishing reports for the area at wwwgoboatingflorida.com under the section of ‘blogs and tips’.