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Fishing | It’s May — tarpon season is on in Boca Grande Pass

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - Fishing | May 10, 2024

Capt. George Tunison

It’s May in Florida and tarpon season is on at Boca Grande Pass! Time to catch a plane!

After getting over the shock of walking into a very moist hot oven as you leave the cool comfort of the Fort Myers airport, you finally find your room for a night, actually a few hours of nervous sleep, still waking before the alarm.

After a short trip in the rental you finally meet your guide and get onboard. Within a few minutes the fish you’ve spent years reading, obsessing and learning about are suddenly all around you, crashing the surface chasing baits, gulping or rolling for air along with a flotilla of drifting boats, anglers, guides and guests, with many already displaying heavily bent rods as experienced captains weave their way through the drifting and crowded pack trying to keep their angler hooked up.

It’s definitely a different experience for anglers used to seeking solitude on uncrowded waters or promising quiet shorelines for a day of relaxing angling. Often described as a boat bumping circus, expect the pass to be crowded even on weekdays during prime tarpon time in May and June. Migratory-minded tarpon will use or relate to the pass area till late fall, often into December, before heading south to warmer waters.

Boca Grande and the surrounding area has quite a history dating back many thousands of years with the Calusa people taking advantage of the abundant Charlotte Harbor fishing and hunting opportunities. Many years later Spanish and Cuban fisherman also took advantage of the seemingly unlimited natural resources. By the early 1900s, big game sport fishing took off drawing anglers from around the world for a crack at catching a silver king. The other draw was phosphate mining along the nearby Peace River with the product barged down to the docks at Boca to then be loaded onto ships supplying the world with phosphate. The naturally deep pass — up to 80 feet deep — was obviously perfect for large vessels to get in and out.

If you don’t go with a guide or local salty, the first order of business should be consulting your tide chart. Like with any saltwater fishing, the fish are typically most active during a moving or changing tide, especially around new or full moon phases, resulting in fast moving “hill tides” which flushes out a smorgasbord of tide-trapped crabs, shrimp and fish from Charlotte Harbor for the pass fish to feast on.

Fishing in the pass is accomplished by controlled drifting with the fleet and tides, correcting your speed and drift with the wheel and always- running motor, while giving way when possible to those already hooked up. Never anchor in the pass, especially with other boats present. Simply move up to the pass but, stay back for a while and observe how the other boats drift and maneuver till you get the idea, then give it a go and join in. Think courtesy and common sense.

Special rules apply in April, May and June, such as no more than three lines in the water. “Breakaway gear” is strictly prohibited. The FWC states: “Gear that has a weight attached to the hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or lure is suspended vertically from the rod, is prohibited”

Circle hooks aren’t mandatory but any reef fish caught in the pass on non-circle hooks must be released.

Consult the FWC website for more special Boca Grande tarpon regulations and clarifications.

Since tarpon are believed to be a 120 million-year-old species, how long they’ve been coming to Boca for their annual spring rituals is unknown. The pass not only has a rich fishing history but also offers several other species to target. Tired of tarpon? Try that 500-pound Goliath grouper that hangs around the old phosphate docks.

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