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Tarpon time is here and just warming up

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Mar 25, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED Capt. George Tunison

If you haven’t experienced it, now’s the time to enjoy one of angling’s greatest thrills and Southwest Florida is a great place to start. Yes, its tarpon time and it’s just getting warmed up. We’ve got fish from 5 pounds to over 200 pounds, some golden in color, some covered in bright chrome.

If you don’t have a friend to show you the ropes then hire one of the many local guides that specialize in tarpon fishing. Four hours spent with a competent guide will jump start your learning curve in the end saving your time and worth every penny.

Definitely consider joining Florida’s #1 tarpon club, The Cape Coral Tarpon Hunters. These folks will teach you everything you need to know to be successful at catching your first silver king.

When you get good at it, try beating the IGFA All Tackle World Record of 286.9 pounds.

Those new to the sport have many questions usually starting with, what tackle do I need? The tackle needed will be defined by your style of fishing. Second question is where do I find them? Thirdly, what kind of boat do I need?

Let’s start with tackle. Tarpon can be taken on almost any tackle so chose the tackle you’re most comfortable with. If you like to play the sit and wait game fishing dead baits on the bottom in the river or a bit offshore, then a 7.5 to 8.5-foot medium heavy rod and a conventional reel like a Penn Senator 4/0 or 5/0 loaded with 40-pound mono would be a good basic outfit. This same rig would also work for fishing big live baits under floats or balloons around big structures like bridges and for medium shark fishing.

My favorite way to tackle a tarpon is to fish on summer nights with an 8-foot, medium heavy spinning rod and matching quality reel, 60 to 80-pound braided line, and an assortment of 9-inch to 14-inch eel type jigs or soft plastic swim baits. This same rig would be a good tool to use to throw a live crab, pinfish or lure when intercepting coastal tarpon as they move up and down the beaches and around the passes.

For serious sized tarpon, most fly rodders choose a 12 weight outfit and matching reel with a good drag system. Match the tackle to the size fish you’re pursuing. Every year I catch a fair number of juvenile Cape canal tarpon in the 3 to 20-pound class on a 6 weight rod.

Angler Tom Evans set a fly rod 12-pound tippet IGFA World Record in Pine Island in 2010 with a 194.8-pound fish.

These same juvenile fish I find in the Cape’s many miles of canals are also a blast on lite tackle spinning rods and small jigs.

Location – Tarpon can be caught offshore, inshore and in our river and canal systems; day and at night. In this area we have tarpon year-round and in spring our resident river and canal tarpon greet their migrating cousins coming up from the Keys. These northern migrating fish are typically first caught in our location just off Sanibel Island then around the Sanibel Causeway as they move into lower Pine Island Sound. Another group will take the coastal route and move along the Gulf side of Sanibel with many taking up temporary residence in Redfish and Captiva passes then later moving up to one of the best known tarpon holes in the world, Boca Grande Pass. In summer’s heat, many move into Charlotte Harbor.

Some of these migrating fish will also spend time in Matlacha Pass and in the Caloosahatchee River mixing with the resident fish especially in around the many bridges that cross it, especially at night.

Boats needed? None! Fish the many miles of Cape Coral canals on foot. No special boat is needed. Sometimes it can be as simple as soaking a catfish tail on the bottom.


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