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Choosing right hook for tarpon

May 8, 2010

One question I hear all the time when it comes to tarpon fishing - "Which hook should I use?"

Every captain, guide, sportsman or woman has their theory. Because there are so many ways to catch tarpon let's break it down into categories.

Tarpon eat dead baits on the bottom. Catfish, ladyfish, shad, mullet, etc. On a catfish chunk of six to eight inches I will use a 12/0 offset circle hook made by Owner. Catfish chunks are deadly bait for bottom fishing at certain times. Always hook these large baits in the end leaving as much hook exposed as possible.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

The Cape Coral Tarpon Hunters use a Mustad 13/0 circle hook on dead (catfish) baits with a 48 percent hookup rate, which is a great average for these high jumping, hook throwing, powerful fish. The debate continues to go on about circle hooks versus "J" hooks. I have used both with great results.

This tarpon season I'm using circle hooks for most of my tarpon fishing. I started the season using my normal Owner #7 "J" hook that has served me very well in past seasons. So far this year we have jumped eight tarpon with none brought to the boat. The next bait sported a circle hook and we got to touch the tarpon. Just lucky number 9? I do know that when the circle hook finds its mark it usually stays put.

It's best to fish bottom bait using the rod holder especially when using circle hooks. Let the fish take the bait and hook itself before you yank the rod out of the holder and start reeling like mad. Remember to not set the hook. Simply reel tight and the fight is on.

On smaller baits drop the hook size. On a jumbo shrimp or hand sized pinfish cast to feeding tarpon, I would chose an Owner 7/0 - 8/0 offset circle or a #6 - #7 Owner SSW or bait hook.

For fishing large live baits, such as 12-inch ladyfish, we go to the largest circle hooks the fish can naturally support. We continually experiment with many different hook styles, sizes, and placements. I like to tinker and improve baits and lately have been experimenting with attaching hooks to ladyfish with rubber bands rather than the more traditional lip-hooking methods. Also suggest using the rod holders for hooking using circles and large live baits.

My preferred tarpon fishing method is throwing plugs or plastic swim baits at them, especially at night. Being a tinkerer, I enjoy retrofitting large bass plugs for tarpon duty by changing split rings and hooks to saltwater sizes. Again, Owner makes high quality replacement saltwater trebles as well as their standard salt hooks and super strong split rings to replace those puny factory rings as well. Bomber, Yozuri, Rapala and MirrOlure make great tarpon plugs.

I guarantee that if you grew up throwing lures for feeding fish and live for the strike you will always remember your first night-time tarpon strike, on a plug.

It's late at night and you have just made 500 casts. Starting to get sleepy you lose focus, thinking about home, food, showers, when 25 feet in front of the boat a silver flash appears and the rod is almost violently yanked from your weak grip.

The adrenaline flows as you watch a 100-pound tarpon explode out of the water violently thrashing its head, silhouetted by the full moon, trying to dislodge the plug that's stuck temporarily in its concrete like mouth. From quiet, retrospective peace and calm to full blown violent confrontation with a chrome and crazed triple-digit powerful prehistoric beast, all in half a second. Not for the faint of heart.

Don't forget the fly rod. Why a 200-pound tarpon will strike a two-inch feathered hook is beyond mem but thankfully they do. One of the most exciting fishing experiences available.

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



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