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Now’s the time to take on the tarpon challenge

By Staff | May 3, 2019

For new nightshift tarpon anglers wanting to challenge the silver king using lures at night, it’s time to make it happen.

Location? It’s no secret that bridges host tarpon 24/7, but especially at night.

Why? Bridge pilings provide a break from the fast flowing current for baitfish, crabs and shrimp concentrating the tarpon’s meal into predictable locations. Bridges with lights draw baitfish and predators, not only tarpon but huge snook, grouper, sharks, even cobia.

The Cape Coral Bridge usually gets the most night press but at one time or another every bridge and RR trestle from the Sanibel Causeway upriver to the Franklin Locks will have tarpon milling about or feeding depending on season and food availability.

I’ve had as much or more night success at the Midpoint having the whole bridge to myself while the Cape Bridge is crowded.

Don’t overlook city tarpon around the bridges in Fort Myers at night as well as for some monster snook opportunities.

Thirty minutes north, the 41 bridges crossing the Peace River at Punta Gorda offer consistent nighttime tarpon action.

The various passes offer night angling as well but heavy flowing tides and boat control become more of an issue as well as safety concerns in smaller craft. If the pass is running too fast, tarpon will often move out and stage around the outflow or close by along the beach where casting can be more productive.

In the passes, cast your lure ahead of rolling fish or if they aren’t rolling, holding your lure straight up and down under the boat as you drift out of the pass with the tide will be more effective than blind casting. You needn’t impart any or very little action to the lure as the natural rocking motion of the boat will actually “jig” the lure as you move with the tide.

You’ve decided to fish a river bridge and need to prepare. A 7.5-foot to 8.5-foot medium heavy spinning outfit with a matching reel spooled with 60 to 80-pound braid would be a good start. At night I go leader heavy typically 80 to a hundred pound test depending on the type of lure being used.

Choose a rod with a somewhat limber tip to cast with but with a strong spine for solid hook-ups.

Lure selection can be boiled down to two categories: hard and soft baits. Traditionally, Bomber Long A’s and other long minnow profile hard plastic lures were the go-to bait for night casters and still do the job, just take off those nasty trebles and replace with single hooks for everyone’s safety.

With sharks always looking for a bite, you don’t want to be performing a deep throat treble hook removal operation on a large bucking tarpon in a rolling boat at night. The danger factor is very high for you and the fish.

When replacing the trebles with more sensible single hooks, upgrade the split rings to a beefier set at the same time.

The soft bait selection is seemingly never-ending with most of the choices appealing to tarpon at one time or another. I’ve had success with 3-inch D.O.A. Shrimp all the way to the large 12-inch paddle tail eels on single hook jig heads.

A basic lure selection would include a few modified hard baits like a Bomber or Yozuri, a few DOA soft plastic Swimming Mullets and their deep runner Baitbusters, finished off with a selection of Hogy eels and paddle tails in the 6 to12-inch size. A selection of jig heads ranging from 1/2 oz. to 2 oz. will cover your needs. For surface feeders, an unweighted 6/0 to 8/0 circle hook through the nose of a plastic eel works great.

GPS spot-lock trolling motors free your hands for casting to bridge shadow lines while the current is running. Cast up current and retrieve your baits with it.

Always be courteous around anchored boats fishing bait.

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