tarpon swimming

WaterLine file photo

With winter behind us, it’s time to start playing with some larger fish.

The calendar says spring, but we all know that once Easter is behind us, it’s summer in Southwest Florida. With the heat we see big fish like sharks and tarpon moving in. This can be a fun time to fish, but you’re going to need to beef up your gear.

I usually use the same gear for tarpon and sharks (unless we’re going for really big sharks; then I will go even bigger). The rods I use are 8-foot Reapers. I have two weight classes: The 15-40 I use for casting crabs on the beach and for casting DOA Bait Busters or other lures.

When I’m using ladyfish for bait or deep-dropping in the Pass, I break out the 20-50 class rods. These rods have more beef for pulling, but you’ll wear yourself out casting with them. On both setups, I use 65- or 80-pound test braid and 60- to 80-pound leader.

We are still early in the year, and the tarpon that are here are moving around a lot. I’ll start out looking in the Harbor around our three 20-foot holes. Once I find them there, I like to use ladyfish. I put them on a float, usually about 4 to 6 feet under it. Then I drift or use my trolling motor to drag my lady fish around the area very slowly.

This time of year it’s hard to find the fish without a side-scan fish finder. The water’s not hot enough yet. When the water gets hotter, they will start rolling a lot more to gulp air because the oxygen levels are a lot lower.

Now if I can’t find them in the deep holes, I’ll drive the boat out to Boca Grande Pass to see if they are there. If I find them in the Pass, my favorite method is to drop down some crabs. You’re going to have to experiment to find the right size depending on how fast the current is.

Later in the year they’ll move out to the beaches, and then most of the time I’ll be free-lining crabs or putting them under floats. How far under the floats changes depending on the water depth. The beach fishing can be a lot of fun because they tend to jump more when they are in shallower water. Just remember to bow to the king.

The shark fishing has been good and is only going to get better. I generally do my shark fishing closer to the Pass as I tend to find a lot more sharks out that way. I think it’s the saltier water. Many fishermen will anchor and chum to catch sharks. I put out chum blocks, but I don’t because the anchor line is one more thing the shark can break you off on. Instead, I drift and use my trolling motor if I feel the need to move.

My favorite shark bait is bonita. I also use ladyfish and mullet, but the bonita stinks (in a good way) and works very well for me. I don’t put the whole fish on; just chunks cut from the side.

Remember that you’ll need steel leader so the sharks won’t bite through your line. If I’m using braid, I will tie in a piece of mono before my steel leader for a shock absorber. One more thing: Don’t try using your redfish and snook pliers to take a hook out of a shark’s mouth. It’s not smart. I like my hands intact, and I’ll bet you guys do too.

Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.

Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.

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