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Can’t wait for arrival of tarpon

February 26, 2011

As we rush toward spring, the fishing keeps getting better and better. Pretty soon we will have come full circle and back into another tarpon season.

I can't wait!

Though there certainly is a year-round tarpon fishery here because of our resident (non-migrating) fish, all in all it's a hit-or-miss proposition when fishing for them in the colder season. Still, every winter many anglers score with bait or plugs especially upriver near the locks or around the power plant's warm water discharge areas.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

In 2005 I was testing a new boat on the Caloosahatchee on a sunny February afternoon. I had brought along a single rod loaded with a 3/8 oz. white bucktail. While around the Cape Coral Bridge I stopped and made a few casts along the structures.

On the second cast I felt a slight bump travel up my Power Pro and into my rod and thought I had hooked a trout as I instantly set the hook. To my amazement a tarpon in the 80- to 90-pound class came straight up not 10 feet from the bow, gave a huge gill rattling head shake and dove for the depths. Somehow he didn't shake the small jig hook as he headed for Miami.

Several pleasure boats drifted with me as I fought this tarpon as he pulled the small skiff downriver in a down-and-dirty battle. After what seemed like an hour with the overmatched rod and with lots of help from the Minn-Kota, I caught up to him and had him near boatside for a clean release.

Under the I-75 bridge near the power plant I watched an epic winter tarpon battle between a 13-year-old boy in a Jon boat armed with an ancient Zebco 303 loaded with a Rattle Trap. While fishing for jacks, a tarpon in the 30- to 40-pound class inhaled his Rattle Trap lure near the base of the bridge pilings. The boy hung on as we watched from nearby.

Well into the fight the jumping thrashing fish proved too much for the old Zebco. It froze up and refused to pay out line. Undeterred the boy dropped the old fiberglass rod and proceeded to handline the fish toward the boat! With one more jump the now tired tarpon rolled next to the boat and he had him.

I will never forget the image of that spunky fish, in the air higher than the boy, with his outstretched arms in true hand-to-hand combat with a tarpon. A gold colored handlined winter tarpon caught by one determined kid, and an old Zebco.

All around let out a cheer as he held the fish while we snapped pictures for his scrapbook. That may have been one of the biggest smiles I've ever seen.

For now, I'm satisfied with great trout fishing, a steady supply of rat redfish with the occasional 30-plus-inch bruiser mixed in and some big sheepies on the mangrove edges with the reds as well

Capt. Dick May of Easy Rider Charters reports he is concentrating on trout because of less than great tides. Catching them to 20 inches, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, bonnet head and black tip sharks while fishing for trout.

When we have had enough water to fish for redfish, they are catching reds up to 17 inches but no keepers. On Tuesday he found several keeper reds laid up about 30 feet off the mangroves soaking up some sun, but they would not eat.

My best bait for trout has been Gulp 3-inch shrimp in pearl white or glow under a rattling cork on a 1/4 oz. jig head. The tide needs to be running and you need enough wind to put a nice ripple on the water.

If this warming trend continues and the whitebait comes in I expect keeper size reds to show up.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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