Right rod, reel, hook, line — essential to tarpon fishing
Due to strong west winds caused by Tropical Storm Beryl, access to the tarpon bite was limited last week.
But, don’t be discouraged, the tarpon are still here, and the winds have subsided. Soon you’ll be able to look out in the Gulf of Mexico and see 20 boats all clumped together on the horizon— all hooking up with tarpon. The same applies around Bean Point in Tampa Bay at the north end of Anna Maria Island.
This week’s focus is the kind of tackle needed to tango with a silver king.
Let’s start off with rod selection. When shopping for a spinning rod for tarpon, you want to take a few things into consideration. Most of the time, you’ll be using live bait, so you’ll want a rod that casts well. Something with a fast tip is a good choice. Next, you have to decide if you want a rod that can whip a fish in 15 minutes, or whether you’re willing to battle a fish for an hour or more. This being said, the lighter the rod rating, the longer the fight. Lastly, tarpon rods generally range from 8-10 feet in length, so you need to pick a rod that you are comfortable casting and also one that isn’t too heavy for you to work for a long time.
On my charters, I like to use an 8-foot Star Stellar lite spinning rod. It has a rating of 15- to 30-pound test line and will throw up to a 3-ounce lure. These rods feature a cork handle with a large foregrip and a long butt. The large foregrip is helpful in fighting a fish, and the long butt aids in casting and leverage in a tarpon fight. Overall, these rods are very strong and lightweight, too.
Other 8-foot rods suitable for tarpon include the 8-foot St. Croix Tidemaster and Avid. Shimano features an extra-heavy 8-foot rod in its Teramar series, which is suitable to battle the silver king. And Crowder Rods features an 8-foot rod that will do the job in its Sportsman Series.
If you’re comfortable using a 9-foot rod, Crowder makes two that are designed specifically for tarpon. One is the 9-foot Crowder E Series fiberglass rod, and the other is a custom tarpon rod made exclusively for Island Discount Tackle in Holmes Beach. The E series rod has a 15-30 or a 20-40 line-class rating. It’s made from a fiberglass blank and has foam grips with a Fuji reel seat. This rod is fairly heavy in weight, but is sufficient to fight and land big tarpon in short order. The custom rod is a 9-foot graphite with a cork handle and a Fuji reel seat. This rod has a 20- to 40-pound line-class rating. The benefit of this rod is the graphite. It’s lighter and stronger. Also, this rod features a fast tip and Fuji K-guides, which aid in casting. This rod is suitable to fight and land big tarpon.
Now, let’s talk about spinning reels to pair with your rod. There are a number of reels suitable for the job, depending on your budget. In the “reel world,” the higher the cost, the better the performance.
Let’s start with Penn reels. Penn is acknowledged as the most popular saltwater spinning reel, and for good reason. They’re strong, reliable and easy to work on and are made for saltwater fishing. The reels I recommend for tarpon are the Conquer 8000, Battle 8000, Slammer 760, Penn Torque, and in the SSM Series, either the 850 SSM or 950 SSM. All of these reels are highly durable, feature a large spool for packing plenty of line and are designed to withstand the pressure of catching big fish.
Shimano makes a few reels worthy of fishing a silver king. You want to get the 10,000 size or bigger to get the job done. The first choice is a Stella. Other models include the Saragosa, Thunnus Bait Runner and Spheros. All of these reels feature the Shimano smoothness, as well as the strength and power to battle big fish.
Other brands of spinning reels popular in our area include the Fin Nor offshore reel, Van Staal reels and the Quantum Cabo 60. Again, all these big reels will do the job, depending on how much you want to spend.
Now that you’ve got a tarpon combo, it’s time to add line, leader and hooks. For line, 50- to 65-pound braid is best. Remember, you want something strong, but you have to be able to cast it, too. You need to pack on 250-300 yards of braid on your reel, so plan accordingly. PowerPro and Berkley Fireline are popular brands.
When picking out leader, always put on fluorocarbon over straight mono. Fluorocarbon disappears in the water, which helps when the fish are being finicky. It’s best to start with at least 50-pound test, although you can go higher or lower depending on your preference. Generally, when tying your leader on, make it the length of the rod and use a line-to-line knot to make the connection. You can use a double uni-knot or Bimini twist to an Albright.
Lastly, let’s go over hook selection. You can use circle hooks or J-hooks, depending on your preference. Good sizes for both start at 5/0 hook and go up to an 8/0. Remember, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on these hooks, so pick a strong one. Owner makes a number of reputable hooks. You may still break one occasionally, but I’ve had the best luck with them. Other good hooks include Mustad, Eagle Claw and Gamakatsu.
Now you’re ready to fish, so get out there and jump a tarpon.
Happy hunting and don’t forget to be considerate of other boats and anglers around you.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says pier fishers using live shrimp are catching a variety of species. Dropping live shrimp under the pier, fishers are catching black drum, sheepshead and redfish. For the reds, live shiners also are getting the bite.
If you’re an early riser, you can catch the Spanish mackerel bite at sunrise. Pier fishers using small white jigs are catching mackerel in the 18-inch range. Remember to carry an ample amount of jigs — you’re sure to get cut off by the mack’s sharp teeth. You can use as little as 30-pound fluorocarbon for leader, although 50-pound will work when the fish are biting.
On a final note, Malfese says pier fishers are awaiting the arrival of mangrove snapper. “We’re seeing the hatch bait show up,” says Malfese, “hich generally signals the arrival of the mangoes.”
To target these tasty fish, you’ll want to use some 20-pound fluorocarbon tied to a No. 2 live-bait hook. Pinch on a split-shot about 12 inches from the hook and bait up with a small shiner or live shrimp. Little pieces of frozen sardine will work, too.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says the tarpon craze was in full force up until the west wind started blowing from Tropical Storm Beryl. Anglers were hooking up silver kings around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, in the passes north and south of Anna Maria Island and in the Gulf of Mexico within a mile of the beach.
For bait, a variety of presentations are producing. When targeting tarpon on the move, live baits such as threadfin herring, shiners, pinfish and crabs are working. While the fish are staged up in the passes, under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge or on the beaches, dead baits, such as threadfin herring or large menhaden (shad) work well.
Pier fishers frequenting the tackle shop are reporting a descent Spanish mackerel bite at both piers at the north end of Anna Maria. Small white jigs, such as crappie jigs or speck rigs, are the lure of choice, although silver spoons will suffice. Average size of the macks caught is 18-inches to the fork of the tail.
Finally, flats fishers are still reporting good numbers of spotted seatrout, especially fish more than 20 inches in length. Whether fishing live bait or artificials, seatrout are finding their way to the hook. For live bait, shiners or live shrimp under a cork are working. For artificials, Keyes suggests using suspending twitch baits, such as the MirrOlure MirrOdine.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says the wind played a major role in dictating where he took charters this past week.
Due to high winds Tuesday and Wednesday, Howard fished the inshore areas of Tampa Bay and had success with spotted seatrout and some slot-sized catch-and-release snook. Shiners were Howard’s bait of choice.
The heat of the summer has driven the spotted seatrout out of shallow water and into water 4-10 feet deep. Howard suggests looking for grass beds to find schools of these tasty treats.
Snook are getting ready to spawn and making their move to the beaches and passes. Howard was able to catch and release two fish in the 30-inch-plus club.
Strong west winds and rough surf played havoc on the beach, effectively shutting down tarpon fishing for the first part of the week, Howard reported.
On Thursday, as the winds died down, Howard took daughter Sarah Howard and sister, Cindy McClure, out for a morning of tarpon fishing. “The fish were on a chew and we were able to put seven silver kings in the air and released three,” Howard said.
“Remember to put maximum pressure on these fish with your rod and reel combo to ensure a quick battle and successful release,” Howard adds.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers is seeing bonito and Spanish mackerel dominate the bite. Pier fishers using fresh-cut greenbacks under a popping cork are catching Spanish mackerel in the 20-inch range. For the bonito, the same technique is working, or, he says, you can cast small white jigs or silver spoons to get the bite.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are having good results bottom fishing under and around the structure. Flounder in the 18-inch range are being reeled up daily. For good results, Medley says to try casting toward the artificial reefs around the pier and slowly drag your shrimp along the bottom. Sometimes when the flounder hit, you may only feel a little resistance, so it may take a few tries before you get the knack.
If you fish around the pilings of the pier with shrimp, there’s a good chance you’ll hook a pompano. You can also use a Love’s lures pompano jig to catch these golden nuggets.
Last, but not least, tarpon are still being caught around the pier and near the main span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Live pinfish, threadfin herring and shiners are working for bait.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing tarpon on the beach. “Up until Monday, we were catching up to 10 tarpon per day,” says Girle. “With an average of two to four being brought to the boat. Our biggest fish came in at 175 pounds,” he added.
Girle is using live crabs, threadfin herring or shiners to hook up the silver kings. For rigging, Girle says he likes to use 50-pound braided line tied to a 5/0 J hook.
Girle is fishing the backwaters of Sarasota Bay and in the Intracoastal Waterway for spotted seatrout, redfish and snook. Girle is using live shiners for bait and free-lining them behind the boat to get the bite.
On a final note, Bill Partridge of Anna Maria and Sarasota says the tarpon are so thick, they’re jumping into the boat. He came by The Islander office last week to report he boated the catch of the week … year … century.
Partridge said he was fishing offshore of the Sandbar Restaurant with a friend when a tarpon leaped from the water, hit him in the back of the head, and landed on the boat deck. They estimated it to be 160 pounds before returning it to the water. What a tale!
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