Anna Maria anglers catch tarpon fever
As I settle down to reread “The Tarpon Book” by Frank Sargent after a 12-hour day of tarpon fishing, I find myself flipping to the same pages I do every year. The pages about fishing tarpon in Tampa Bay and along the beach.
There’s something about reading about tarpon fishing in our area that makes me warm and fuzzy inside. Especially after a successful day on the water. Plus, no matter how many times you read Sargent’s book, you always end up having one of those fishing epiphanies that keeps you awake all night.
Ah, the allure of tarpon fishing — always a learning experience, and potentially an obsession. Side effects include numerous hours catching bait, spending vast amounts of money on a boat and equipment, dehydration and sunburn due to extensive hours on the water, moderate to heavy fatigue from fighting a stubborn 150-pound fish for more than an hour and, finally for some, arriving home after dark only to pass out from exhaustion before dinner. Oh, and, what’s for dinner? Certainly not tarpon, there is no food value to the silver king.
I bet you can’t wait to get out there and get hooked. It’ll hit you when the boat is surrounded by tarpon that are blasting chummers you just tossed out. You may even shake a little as your bait gets nervous and you anticipate the bite. Then, when, a silver torpedo comes skyrocketing out of the water not 20 yards from your boat, it’s all over for you. Just admit it, you’re hooked.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the backcountry for spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook. Gross is using live shiners to target these species. By free-lining baits behind the boat, Gross’ clients are experiencing sizzling action on some big catch-and-release snook.
Gross is finding the big snook in shady potholes and around mangrove islands amid shallow grass flats. Snook up to 40-inches are being caught with a lot of slot-sized fish in the mix. “If you’re a snook fisherman,” says Gross, “Now is the time. There are some big fish on the flats.”
Gross also is seizing the tarpon moments with his clients. Whether fishing the passes or the beaches, Gross’ anglers are putting their strength and determination to the test while tangling with these silver bombers. He’s seeing an average of a few hookups per trip, and expects the bite to get better in the next few weeks. Average size this week is 80-100 pounds with a few fish up to 150 pounds.
Capt. Warren Girle is experiencing a severe case of silver king. Girle is fishing from sunrise to sunset in search of the much sought-after game fish. By carrying an assortment of baits, including crab, threadfin herring and shiners, Girle is producing multiple hookups and getting a respectable number of fish to the boat, too.
His average-size tarpon this past week was 90-120 pounds with some fish exceeding 150 pounds.
Amid the tarpon craze, Girle is still working the inshore species with good results. On the flats, Girle is catching trout, redfish and catch-and-release snook. For bait, he’s using live shiners free-lined behind the boat. He suggests fishing afternoon outgoing tides for good action on catch-and-release snook around the mangrove roots and sandy potholes.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says early morning action on Spanish mackerel, blue runners and jack crevalle is heating up. Bait is beginning to appear steadily, also the predators. Come to the pier equipped with small white jigs or Gotcha plugs to get in on the action. Remember, getting to the pier early is key.
For those not willing to go the distance in the morning, night fishing is picking up at the pier for catch-and-release snook or shark. For the snook, try dangling a fat pinfish or ladyfish under the pier. Heavy gear is necessary to get big snook out from under the pier once it’s hooked. If you don’t have the gear, don’t even try, Sork says.
For the shark, try casting a chunk of ladyfish or mackerel away from the pier and wait for a bite. Again, heavy gear is a good idea. You could catch a 3-foot bonnethead or an 8-foot bull shark — you just never know.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel says mackerel action on the early morning high tides is becoming productive. Pier anglers using small white speck rigs are capitalizing on the bite. Gotcha plugs are producing, too.
Pier fishers using live shrimp, are finding sheepshead, black drum and some oversized redfish meandering under the pier waiting for a tasty morsel to be placed in front of their noses. For the reds you can also try a palm-sized pinfish or a half of a blue crab to get a bite.
Finally, spectators at the pier are watching the tarpon rodeo just to the west. If you’re wondering what those 30 boats are doing out there, you’ll realize once you see a bright silver flash of a tarpon, flying 6 feet above the water, shaking violently, trying to spit the hook.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle is hearing daily reports of tarpon being caught from both the beaches and the passes. Obsessed tarpon fishers are roaming the tackle shop isles in search of bulk-pack circle hooks, heavy fluorocarbon leaders and tarpon corks. Not only that, but some are equipping themselves with oversized spinning outfits spooled with hundreds of yards of heavy braided line worthy of withstanding the power of the silver king. Mattay says fish up to 175 pounds are being reported.
On the beaches Mattay is hearing of good action on migratory fish, including mackerel and shark. Large schools of bait are arriving along the shorelines, which in turn brings the fish. Barracuda also are being spotted along the beaches, and Mattay suggests using a tube lure to get hooked up with one of these toothy predators.
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