As we all know, Southwest Florida is home to one of the many migratory stops tarpon use along their long and winding route to God only knows where (well, OK; I guess the tarpon know too). Our stop is known by people all around the globe as Boca Grande Pass, but we around here just refer to it as “the Pass.”
During the months of May and June, the Pass holds the largest concentration of tarpon found on the planet, which is why it’s also known as The Tarpon Capital of the World. It has been estimated that somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 tarpon move in and out of Boca Grande Pass each day in May and June.
A lot of people have it in their heads that May and June is Southwest Florida’s tarpon season. I’m here to tell you that those months are not the true tarpon season around these parts, although they are the craziest part of it for sure.
How did this happen? It’s simple. It’s partially because there are so many tarpon in such a small area during that time of the year. But another part of it because so many “out-of-town” fishing guides from Tampa, Port Richey, Naples and Daytona — guides who only know how to fish the Pass — have made their clients believe that the only time they stand a chance of catching one of our beloved silver kings is when they’re stacked in the Pass.
How ridiculous. If Boca Grande and Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties would market our beach, Harbor and backcountry tarpon fishing half as much as they glorify that Pass, we’d have a much, much longer tarpon season around here.
I truly believe that most out-of-state fishermen (all potential vacationers) are unaware of the fact that our local guides start putting their clients on tarpon as early as March and keep jumping those tarpon all the way through October. Technically, tarpon can be targeted year-round in our area, but March through October is when we can routinely catch the big boys.
I don’t know about you, but an eight-month tarpon season sounds a lot better than the two-month one we over-glorify now. I also feel that our local economy would benefit greatly from a longer tarpon season.
So are you scratching your head right now and thinking, “I didn’t know tarpon are still around. Where are they and how do I catch them?” I’m glad you asked.
Each morning as I head out to my first spot of the day with my clients, I always keep one eye out on the water for rolling tarpon, even if my trip is for shark or backcountry fish. If the tide is going out first thing in the morning, I’ll take a run down the beach in hopes of spotting a pod or two. If the tide is coming in, I’ll take a look around the lower half the Harbor. Around the new and full moons, the tarpon will also still stack in the Pass this time of year, though not in the numbers that made the Pass famous — but still very fishable nonetheless.
When you’re looking for tarpon off the beach or in the Harbor, all you’re looking for is rolling fish. If you happen to sight a school of threadfins or greenbacks while you’re driving around, go ahead and spend a few minutes inspecting the area. Tarpon like to hang around their food source, so finding bait makes a great starting point for your search.
Other good places to start your hunt are the Boca Grande range marker and the area known as The Hill, just inside Boca Grande Pass. The 20-foot holes in the middle of the Harbor also often hold tarpon.
Baits of choice can vary greatly this time of year. Right now I’m using small blue crabs, threadfins and DOA Bait Busters. As fall approaches, I’ll move away from the crabs and threadfins and start using sugar trout, ladyfish and all kinds of artificials. Basically you’re just trying to offer them what they’re already eating, so figuring out what they’re feeding on will really enhance your chances of catching one of these magnificent fish.
As far as tackle, let me recommend big spinning reels attached to 7-foot medium-heavy rods. I use 5000 series Daiwa Saltist reels on locally made Reaper rods. A fluorocarbon leader is a must. Tarpon have great eyesight and monofilament is just too easy for them to see. I use a 6- to 8-foot piece of 40- to 60-pound fluoro — the clearer the water, the longer and lighter the leader must be.
Hook size depends on the size bait you choose to throw. I’ll use a 5/0 to 7/0 circle hook for crabs and threadfins and 6/0 to 8/0 circle hooks for ladyfish, sugar trout and big pinfish. Just try to match your hook to your bait so that it looks as natural as possible.
It’s important to toss your baits in front of or around the tarpon school. Don’t cast directly into the school or you’ll just spook the fish. Remember, tarpon chase bait — bait doesn’t chase the tarpon.
Tarpon season is on right now, my friends, and will be going strong for several more months. If you’d like to try fish for tarpon this time of year, I hope some of my advice helps you out. If you would rather learn from someone who has experience, your best bet is to hire a local guide. We would love to teach you what you need to know. One way or another, just get out there and try. It’s worth a shot.
Capt. Mike Myers, owner and operator of Reelshark Charters, is a full-time Charlotte Harbor guide. Having fished the waters all along the Southwest Florida coast for more than 40 years, he has the experience to put anglers on the fish they want. His specialties are sharks, tarpon and the nearshore Gulf waters. For more info, visit ReelShark.com or call Capt. Mike at 941-416-8047.