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Best bait for tarpon? Almost anything!

By Staff | Jul 17, 2020

After finding the magic spot, anchoring, prepping the boat and tackle for battle, we’re almost ready to fish.

First time tarpon clients are usually quite surprised when I pull a catfish out of the well, quickly dispatch and trim it, then put a large fresh portion on the hook. Seems they expected some exotic tropical bait needed to catch the Silver King but the truth is “his majesty” is a common scavenger with a taste for mud cats, eels, worms, by-catch, fish table scraps, crabs, shrimp and at one time or another, any fish both big and tiny that fits into its square bucket mouth.

My biggest local tarpon was caught at night in the Caloosahatchee on a silver trout that was on its last fin but I thought it might go one more round. Down south in Islamorada, a small crab under a float got me hooked up to my personal best Key’s fish. Over the years we’ve also caught quite a few Caloosahatchee and Charlotte Harbor tarpon on live ladyfish, pinfish, threads and mullet, but week in and week out if you’re a laid back bait soaker, a nice fresh catfish chunk on the bottom is hard to beat especially when it comes to our river fish.

Using a large circle hook, impale the catfish hunk on one end and only deep enough to keep it from tearing off on the cast. Putting the hook through too much meat will likely prevent a solid hook-up. Now, cast it out in your magic spot, put the rods in the holder, and wait. When casting an 8 oz. cat steak use a sidearm lob cast so you don’t fling it off the hook.

Some say put the reels in clicker mode and let the fish take or eat the bait, lock up the reel then reel tight to the fish. It’s better and much safer for the fish if you simply engage the reels, check your drag, then place them in the holder. It only takes a blink of an eye for a 150-pound tarpon to literally inhale a 6-inch chunk of meat then turn, hopefully circle hooking itself — fight on! Letting the fish “take it” only increases the risk of internal damage to a 50-year old specimen.

After placing rods in their holders and one suddenly starts moving or jerking, do not run to the rod and start reeling. Don’t touch them till the rod is bent way down and the drag is screaming. Only then, pick up the rod and go to work.

One word of caution if you are playing this game at night: be very careful when reviving and releasing your tarpon in the ink black waters. Last week’s boat-side shark attack on a client’s river tarpon that he was reviving was too close for comfort. This is peak shark season in our waters.

If one wanted to catch the biggest largemouth bass ever caught in Cape Coral how would you go about it? Would you try a 12-inch ultra-realistic swim bait like they use in the USA’s big bass kingdom of California, to catch trout-stuffed over 20 pounders? No doubt Florida is famous for bass fishing but those relatively small trout stocked California reservoirs keep producing world record class fish.

Would you instead choose the more traditional Florida live shiner or big bluegill under a cork? Live shiners are black bass candy and over the years have produced more over 10- pound tourist bass than any other method.

Maybe a muskie-sized surface lure fished slowly along pad edges late at night might bring her out to play?

Right now the official IGFA world record (22 lb, 4 oz) is tied with one bass caught in Georgia in 1932 and the other in 2009, in Japan.

If you haven’t received an email response from me I’m sorry, please resend. Bad computer issues last week.

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