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It’s time to get your tarpon gear ready to go

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - | Mar 31, 2023

Capt. George Tunison

With a warm winter and warm water, the tarpon are definitely on the way north with some already here mixing with our resident fish. Now is definitely the time to get your boat and gear in order for the type of tarpon fishing you enjoy be it dead baiting on the bottom with catfish, shad, mackerel or ladyfish; to throwing soft plastic swimbaits like DOA Baitbusters; hard plugs with single hooks or my favorite, Hogy soft plastic eels.

So you’ve caught more than your fair share of tarpon over the years on conventional tackle and each year you make a promise to yourself to finally get a nice fish on that fly rod that’s been sitting in the corner for years collecting dust or, you don’t even own a fly outfit.

If you haven’t yet been already bitten by the fly rod virus, then let’s start with the basics. For serious fish of say 80 pounds to way over a 100, the 12-weight rod is considered standard fare. If you’re ready to make the commitment and do some shopping, the first order of business is to stop, take a breath and do your research. You’ll quickly find that the high end equipment carries a really high end price which stops a lot of folks before they start. Most anglers can’t afford to buy $900 rods and $600 one-piece machined reels plus the $120 fly line to load it with.

This isn’t the way to start anyway, afterall, you might not like fly fishing. Even better, first take some fly fishing lessons from a friend or take a course that requires no equipment like the popular 2-hour total beginners course I’ve offered for years.

If you decide you might like fly fishing, then start by buying a relatively inexpensive combo kit offered by local retailers or the big stores like Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s. Right now Bass Pro is selling its 12-weight Gold Cup Combo for just under $400. Save even more and shop online for some spectacular deals on high end rods and reels. A 12-weight is a good all-around rod for large tarpon as well as the tons of sharks that visit each year, which in shallow water are definitely one of my favorite gamefish, especially on a fly rod.

While you’re warming up for spring tarpon, take a few days and run offshore to do battle with permit, some pushing the over 40-pound mark. This permit bonanza has been happening for several weeks now but won’t last forever. Small crabs are top baits for these beautiful chrome fish and, yes, like pompano, are also great on the plate. Permit are definitely one of the world’s hardest fish to fool on the clear flats of the Keys or some exotic distant location, especially with a fly rod, but deep-water permit don’t require the same degree of stealth.

Back inshore, trout, redfish, small to medium sharks, pompano and snook are all on the move and feeding. Now’s the time to bag a jumbo snook with dead baits on the bottom mixed with patience, or try a live mullet or ladyfish under a float around big structure.

Snapper are everywhere, including the feisty 1-inch one I caught from my seawall this morning on a Rapala X-Rap minnow. Going offshore on calm days puts you in big snapper territory with fish over 6 pounds, available along with lane snapper and red grouper. Always keep an eye peeled and a rod ready for cobia or king fish when travelling offshore this time of year.

For a really fun morning or evening, hit the Cape’s freshwater canals with a 6 to 8-weight rod; a floating, weight forward line; and a handful of bass bugs and poppers to slowly work the lily pads, blow downs and docks you’ll encounter. Cast weedless bugs into heavy cover and hang on.

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