boca tarpon

WaterLine file photo by Capt. Josh Olive

A tarpon being released during the 2018 Gasparilla Island Kids Classic tournament in Boca Grande Pass.

This is prime time tarpon season all around Boca Grande — and really, all along our Gulf coast. We have thousands of giant silver kings out there right now, and it looks like a great tarpon season is coming together.

While our economy is recovering, it’s fun to get out and tangle with a tarpon. The number of charter trips is definitely down, but that just leaves more opportunity for the locals to catch some.

Tarpon are so exciting that I never get tired of watching folks hook into these awesome acrobats. Many like the intensity of concentrated fish and boats in Boca Grande Pass; others prefer the more laid-back atmosphere of the beaches or Harbor. Both produce action.

Pass fishing generally means deep-dropping baits. Stalking fish and sight-casting to them in shallower water is more effort and but also I feel more rewarding. Both methods require specialized gear, and some skill and experience certainly helps. I’ve been at this since 1981 and I feel we have as many fish as ever, so you choose how to target them.

If you’re fishing the beach, take your time and look carefully for rolling silver kings (sometimes one or two, sometimes whole schools of them). If they are circling (daisy chaining), they are happy. Take the time to read their movements, both speed and direction. Try leading the school. The better you can anticipate their actions, the more likely you are to get hooked up.

The key is to avoid scaring them. Set up so the fish will pass near you, but don’t get right in front of them. Don’t crank up a combustion motor anywhere near the school. Trolling motors are good here, but they can scare fish too. The calmer it is, the easier they are to spook. Give the fish some space if you want to get bites.

Following after fish doesn’t work. The more we push, the faster they run. If you race around and scare off schools you will become known as a pain in the rear end, and you will not be welcome.

If you see another boat working with a school, let them have it. There will probably be other schools in the area, and messing up their fishing is not a good way to make friends. Look carefully, be considerate and be patient.

Lively baits produce bites. I know crabs aren’t cheap, but if you fish them until they’re stone dead you’re probably wasting time. If my bait’s not out there swimming around and perky, I’m replacing it. You should too.

I came down here for the tarpon but was hooked by our fabulous snook fishing. We broke down on my first trip to Boca in the early ‘70s and stumbled into Stump Pass snook fishing. Changes to the pass have dramatically altered our catching, but the area still holds some spawning snook. Because of all the pressure now, we need to catch a few and move on to something else.

We have a big problem with Flipper. Dolphins have learned about free lunches of released fish, and they don’t care at all if the season is closed. When they stop in to visit and beg, it’s time to move on — they are not going to leave if you are feeding them. Look for fish at all the Gulf passes and around any nearby structures. Gear down if the waters are clear.

I’m not hassling the trout and redfish right now. Backcountry waters are hot and it’s best to not target delicate fish in hot waters. There will be plenty of opportunity to catch them later — right now, I feel better about catching tropical species that aren’t bothered by higher temperatures.

If a fish dinner is in your plan, head offshore. It was so nice to have some good mackerel action throughout May. Expect to put some time in, but some fine Spanish and kings are still holding locally. I recommend frozen chum to attract fish. Fish with short wire leaders to fool big, smart kingfish. We like large live threadfins and blue runners for kings. Fluorocarbon leaders, long-shank hooks and whitebait are better for the Spanish.

Carry plenty of ice to keep your dinner fresh! Add clean salt water to the fish box as you begin to add fish to keep the meat firm. Poorly iced mackerel are usually mushy.

Out at the reefs, look for baitfish schools over hard bottom structure and be ready for hot flurries with slow periods in between. Have several rods of various sizes, rigged and ready for the hot action. Local artificial reefs are good places to start out but can get crowded fast! Barracuda can be fun, and sharks or cobia can show up and test tackle. Amberjack season just closed, but gag grouper are open again.

It’s hard to grasp that Fishin’ Franks was burned down. Please help them any way you canl they have contributed much to our fishing community. Also, local guides need your support. The coronavirus quarantine has been devastating. We have endured the toughest times I’ve ever seen the last few years.

Fishing is awesome right now; just be careful of those evening thunderstorms. Thank you all, catch ‘em up, and let’s go fishin’ soon.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.

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