Island outbreak of tarpon fishing fever continues
Tarpon fishing remains the buzz for yet another week on Anna Maria Island.
Tarpon addicts from all over the world are migrating to our area to work the local waters with hopes of connecting with an elusive silver king.
Whether tarpon virgins — those who have no idea what they have gotten themselves into — or tarpon junkies — the folks who wait all year for a fix — the season is filled with high levels of anxiety and anticipation. Dreams of wrestling with one of the strongest, most beautiful fish to call our waters home — if only for a brief season — clogs their brains.
Most tarpon outings begin around sunrise or shortly thereafter. As you approach Bean Point at the northern tip of Anna Maria Island, you’ll notice what looks like a small city of boaters in the water.
That’s no outboard motor city— it’s a group of boats targeting fish as they move in the pass. As you pull into the pack, you can see multiple boats ready for a hookup. Your pulse rises and the sweat breaks out as you anticipate casting your first bait into the school.
Now its time to bait up and cast. The fish are rolling just off the stern. Multiple boats close in on the school via trolling motors as you cast your bait. Down sinks the bait as you wait for the moment.
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
There it is! A small twitch of the rod tip and all hell breaks loose.
The silver king sends the drag screaming off your reel, faster than you can fathom. It takes everything you’ve got to hang onto the rod. Then, there’s an explosion on the surface as the fish you’re connected with comes skyrocketing out of the water.
“Don’t forget to bow,” screams the captain. You hear the rattle of the fish’s gills as its head shakes erratically in mid-air and splash-lands back in the water. The fight ensues as you struggle to gain line. Thirty minutes go by and the fish is circling the boat, refusing to come closer. Circling, circling and, finally, giving way, to surface alongside the boat.
“We’ve got a leader touch,” says the captain, as he or she steadies the fish and places a hand under the gill plate.
Quickly there’s a photo opportunity and the fish is revived and released. One thing that stands out: You get a look into the tarpon’s big eyes as it is boat-side, and time momentarily stops.
That’s it kid, you’re hooked. I’ve yet to hear of a tarpon rehab center, although it may be on a favorite barstool over a cold beer, where you can tell your fish story.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is stricken with a bad case of tarpon fever. But he’s out catching bait at 4 a.m. and by 8 a.m., his first bait goes out to a school of fish. According to him, the tarpon are responding to numerous baits, including shiners, threadfin herring and crabs. He’s hooking clients up with fish up to 150 pounds.
After they’ve worn out on tarpon, Lowman takes a break and moves on to target smaller fish — table fare. Mangrove snapper are readily responding to both live and fresh-cut shiners, and any of the artificial reefs are a good spot to start looking.
On the flats, Lowman is putting his clients on spotted seatrout. By finding deeper grass flats, especially adjacent to channels, Lowman is finding trout exceeding 20 inches. In these same areas, Lowman also is finding schooley snook, ranging 20-26 inches.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters also has a good case of tarpon fever. From “can’t see” in the morning to “can’t see” in the evening, Gross is in pursuit of the silver bombers. Whether fishing along the beaches of Anna Maria or in the passes, he’s leading his clients to multiple hookups.
The average size tarpon this week is 100-150 pounds. For bait, Gross is using threadfin herring, shiners and crabs. According to him, there are times when it doesn’t matter what bait you choose, as long as you get it in front of the tarpon’s nose.
When tarpon fever subsides, Gross is targeting fish on nearshore and inshore structures. Mangrove snapper are making a showing on the artificial reefs and Gross is dialed in. By using fresh-cut pieces of shiner free-lined in the current, he’s reeling up 16-inch snapper.
Additionally, Gross is migrating to flats in search of spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Both species are readily responding to live free-lined shiners on tides with good flow.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says Spanish mackerel are the main attraction. Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or speck rigs in bubble gum or chartreuse colors are reeling up macks up to 18 inches. The sunrise bite is fairly consistent, although macks are coming to the deck throughout the morning hours.
Mangrove snapper are gathering around the pilings at the R&R pier. Fishers using frozen shrimp are catching mangoes 10-12 inches and an occasional flounder.
The highlight of the week, pier guests saw a 52-inch barracuda caught by Brock Ewing. A regular at the pier, Ewing wrestled the toothy monster for some time before landing it on the dock.
Capt. Warren Girle, a dedicated tarpon junkie, is fishing morning, noon and sometimes night for the silver king. Spending every day, all day on the water is paying off for Girle, who has more bragging rights than most area anglers. Multiple hookups and fish landed are not uncommon on his boat.
By the end of Girle’s charters, his clients are leaving bruised and battered from wrangling the enormous fish. And what’s even better, is they keep asking for more. He’s reporting fish of 100-150 pounds.
When he’s not tarpon fishing, Girle is targeting mangrove snapper, grouper and permit on offshore structure. The snapper and grouper are responding to live shiners fished on a bottom rig. For the permit, Girle is producing a bite by free-lining live crabs over structure.
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