Tarpon at the boat

WaterLine photo by Capt. Mike Myers

If you want to get a tarpon to the boat, knowing what information is incorrect will certainly increase your chances.

How much do you know about tarpon fishing? Are you sure the things you “know” are accurate? An aura of mystery surrounds these amazing gamefish, and as with many mysterious things, a mythology has grown up around them. Let’s take a look at some of the things people “know” about tarpon and separate the myths from the truth.

Myth #1: The only time you can catch tarpon in our area is in May and June.

Tarpon are absolutely catchable in May and June. But guess what? They are also catchable in March, April, July, August, September, October, November and December. Oh, wait, I forgot January and February also. Yes, fellow anglers, tarpon are here all year round.

Now I’m not saying that they are as easy to find during the other months, but they are here in very fishable numbers from March to November. You just have to look for them (or listen to Radio WaterLine on Saturday mornings, since I can’t seem to shut up about tarpon).

After the so-called “tarpon season” is over and the crowds have disappeared, we local charter captains enjoy targeting the tarpon that stay behind in the backcountry waters, canals, and open waters of beautiful Charlotte Harbor. These fish are way more fun if you ask me, because we aren’t trying to catch them in the middle of a three-ring circus.

Myth #2: Tarpon only eat crabs that cost $48 a dozen.

Well, tarpon do enjoy those expensive crabs. If you are not fortunate enough to be able to catch your own crabs and keep them alive at home, I guess you’ll just have to get another job so you can afford them.

Or you could try pinfish, whitebait, threadfins, sand perch, live ladyfish, chunked-up ladyfish, catfish tails, leatherjackets, shrimp, topwater plugs, lipped plugs, soft plastics, jerk baits or any of the many other things tarpon also eat. Tarpon will eat just about anything. If crabs are outside your budget, don’t fret — just try other baits. They will work if presented properly.

Myth #3: Tarpon only hang out in Boca Grande Pass.

While there are a large number of fish that like the pass, there are also a bunch that don’t. The 20-foot holes, west and east wall bars, Matlacha, Pine Island Sound, behind Cabbage Key and all the beaches from Fort Myers to Bradenton also hold lots of tarpon.

One really nice thing about the fish that hang out other places than the pass is they are more agreeable to eating those non-crab baits. Don’t be scared to explore; that’s how most guides find their fish. The good ones do, anyway — less talented guides just follow the good ones around.


OK, enough jabber about myths. Let’s get into what you need to be able to realistically target and conquer a tarpon. Let’s start with the rod and reel combo you will need to catch that trophy tarpon that could be pushing 200 pounds.

I recommend an 8-foot medium-heavy rod with a 5000 or 6000 series spinning reel attached to it. The rod needs to have plenty of backbone, and it needs to be durable enough that you can put a lot of pressure on it without worrying about it breaking. The rod does most of the work in actually fighting a fish, so choose carefully.

Reel brand is a personal preference, but buying a quality reel is a must. Reels in the $50 to $100 range do not normally stand up to monster tarpon. Reels in the $200 to $300 range are usually built better and will probably take the abuse a tarpon dishes out.

The big three – Daiwa, Penn and Shimano — all offer tarpon-worthy reels in that price range, and all come with good warranties. If you can find it in your budget, they are worth the investment. If not … well, you might be buying another reel sooner than you planned.

Spooling up your reel is not as hard as picking out the above combo. I recommend 50- or 65-pound test braid. Anything lighter will not allow you to put enough pressure on the fish to land it in a timely manner. Anything heavier will probably not cast far enough to get to the fish.

Fluorocarbon leader is also a necessity when tarpon fishing. Tarpon have big eyes and excellent vision. They will avoid the glare off mono line. You’ll need somewhere between 8 and 12 feet of 60 – or 80-pound leader to maximize your success. I know it can get a little pricey, but what the heck — it will be your fish of a lifetime.

Just for an example, the spinning outfits that I use on my boat for tarpon and sharks have Daiwa Saltist 5000 reels on 8-foot medium-heavy Reaper rods. The reels are all spooled with 50-pound Invisi-Braid line. I attach 10 feet of fluorocarbon leader (whatever brand is on sale) and top it off with a 6/0 or 7/0 Gamakatsu or Owner J-hook. With this rig, my average fight time on tarpon is just under 12 minutes.

When I say fight, I mean fight. With good, strong line and a beefy rod, you don’t be scared to put the hammer down on a big fish. I know 12 pounds of drag might seem excessive — but trust me, you will land way more fish with a tight drag then a loose one. And keep the pressure on unless that fish is in the middle of a jump. The quicker you get that fish to the boat and released, the better off it will be.

There are a lot of myths about tarpon and even more confusion about what to use, where to fish, which hat to wear and whether you should bring a banana with you. I know I didn’t answer all the questions you have, but I hope I gave you enough information to get started. If you need to know more, visit your local tackle shop and pick the brains of the people who work there. They should be able to clear up any confusion you have left.

Tight lines.

Capt. Mike Myers, owner and operator of Reelshark Charters, is a full-time Charlotte Harbor guide, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. 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.

Capt. Mike Myers, owner and operator of Reelshark Charters, is a full-time Charlotte Harbor guide, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. 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.

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