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Catch the fever — now’s the time to fish for tarpon

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Apr 30, 2021

Capt. George Tunison

There’s no known cure for tarpon fishing fever. Once you’ve seen and felt the power of this great fish, you may be hooked for life.

If you haven’t caught a tarpon yet, it’s time and Southwest Florida is a great place to make it happen.  Historically, this is tarpon fishing central. Anglers from around the world travel here to try to catch a fish most believed to be uncatchable on rod and reel.

The first — Ft. Myers Press, April 1885, “W.H. Wood catches three tarpon.” (Shooting an alligator the same day)

As the weather continues to warm, so will the tarpon fishing. We’ll have tarpon at the beaches, in and around the passes, in the river, bays and Charlotte Harbor, as well as the shallow flats of Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound. If you’re on a salty Cape canal, a tarpon probably cruised by your house sometime today.

Pick your battle location and method to try and catch yours as there are many options. You could play the waiting game soaking dead baits on the bottom or, fishing live mullet or ladyfish under a balloon. Could try throwing live pinfish or whitebait at tarpon swimming along the coast or entice them with lures or flies. Try drifting a small crab with the current in one of the passes or, pole and quietly hunt the shallows of Matlacha Pass and Pine Island.

If the dead bait waiting game isn’t your cup of tea then by all means break out the lures or fly rod and go to work. Lure choices: soft plastic swimbaits or hard baits. You can further divide the soft swim baits into two groups; those that have action from wide thumping paddle tails and the finesse baits that glide quietly through the water column.

Well proven soft plastics include the big Hogy eels and Hogy paddle tail grubs (both best used with their Barbarian jig heads) and the DOA Baitbuster and Swimming Mullet lures. Hot colors for the Hogys are easy — black or white. Baitbusters in gold or silver sparkle with black backs work well.

For hard baits, the classic Bomber/Yozuri long minnow style lures are always a solid choice along with the classic MirrOlure twitch baits in either in the original three treble hook design or the large sized, two hook MirrOdine model.

Although the old original 50 series MirrOlure twitch baits put tons of tarpon in the boat, I don’t recommend putting a small lure bristling with 3 small treble hooks on the end of your tarpon outfit. It’s dangerous for the angler as well as the tarpon. Breaking off a tarpon with one of these baits pinned in its throat is typically a death sentence for the fish. Trying to extract a MirrOlure with 9 hook points from the mouth of a large angry tarpon, especially at night, is definitely risky business.

For Bomber style long minnows, top-water baits and large DOA MirrOdines, simply change out the trebles and replace with large single hooks.

When tarpon are keying on smaller prey, use those original MirrOlures but modify them to make them more efficient and safer to use.

One MirrOlure trick that’s often credited to well-known Miami guide Capt. Bouncer Smith is to first remove the three treble hooks from the lure. Turn the line tie eye from vertical to horizontal and cover it with heat shrink tubing. Insert a 7/0 circle hook through the line tie and shrink tubing.

Throw this in front of a pack of moving tarpon and slowly retrieve without twitching the bait. A slow, no action, steady retrieve works best.

With finesse soft plastics like the Hogy eel, first try a no action, straight retrieve from the mid-depths to the surface. Next, try a slow pumping rise or fall through the water column. If no takers, go to the thumping paddle tails to make more noise and vibrations, especially at night.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.