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Migratory tarpon are on the way

April 10, 2010

Although Southwest Florida has resident tarpon that live in the rivers and canals all year, the main body of migratory tarpon are now en route from Miami, the Keys and points south.

This huge migration of tarpon is accompanied by an army of sharks that follow and prey on them along the way and after they arrive here.

Tarpon are scavengers and will take a variety of baits, lures and flies, including dead baits fished on the bottom. If you are new to tarpon fishing and the large variety of methods used to catch them, I highly recommend you take a half- or full-day trip with a good guide. In the long run it will save you time, money, and frustration.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

At times they bite almost anything and other times they can be very finicky, such as the resident tarpon that winter in the Orange River and often seen, but hard to catch.

Some of the best methods include fishing catfish hunks on the bottom or using a live ladyfish under a balloon around the bridges at night. Hook the ladyfish through the lips with a circle hook. Anchor uptide and float your bait back to the bridge shadow lines. Put the rod in a holder and let the tarpon hook itself before picking up the rod to fight the fish.

When fishing the bridges for night tarpon always use a quick-release anchor and a good-sized float that you can instantly dump so you can chase the tarpon through the bridge piers and out to open water. The first three minutes of a bridge fight sometimes can resemble a Chinese fire drill.

Fish turning on

Slow-trolling hand-sized live baits behind the boat can be deadly at times as well as intercepting pods of tarpon along the beaches early in the morning. Approach these fish quietly and throw baits like live pinfish or whitebaits just ahead of the school.

Anchoring ahead of their swimming direction or drifting up to them with the wind to present your baits, live or dead, is better than trying to run them down with a trolling motor.

Also, if you have not experienced tarpon fishing at Boca Grande, you should. Here is where a day with a good guide really pays off. This is a very specialized type of fishing that can be a bit difficult to master without some instruction.

One charter Friday produced six snook to 33 inches while redfishing in south Matlacha Pass. All six were caught with Mirr-O-lures on a sharp point with current sweeping around it. After witnessing the heartbreaking snook kill not too long ago it was great seeing these strong, acrobatic, and healthy fish. All were carefully released.

Capt. Rob Modys of SoulMate Charters says, "It is really amazing what warming water temperatures can do to turn the fishing on."

Nice-size white bait has returned to the beaches in good numbers and there are big thread fin herring near the bridges and passes. The letup in the persistent winds has allowed us to get out on the near shore reefs off of Fort Myers Beach and the bite has been off the chain. If you can't catch fish now you should take up golf.

Large schools of Spanish mackerel are moving through and easy targets using curly-tail jigs or freeline live bait. There are bluefish, blue runners and ladyfish mixed in. On the bottom, near rock piles and wrecks, the grouper bite has been great.

Anglers are getting some nice-sized gags along with the occasional red grouper. While working the mackerel we've caught some nice cobia.

Pompano are near the beaches and all are keeper size. Working a small yellow leadhead jig tipped with shrimp near the bottom is the ticket to some delicious table fare.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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