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Tips for rigging for tarpon

May 5, 2012
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Tarpon are here, and if this is your first rodeo and have no clue about getting rigged up correctly let's look at some basic rigging options.

A basic bottom fishing rig (fishing dead baits cut or whole on the bottom) starts with a 7-8-foot tarpon rod with a Penn 4/0 bait caster reel loaded with 40-50 pound quality mono. If I can afford it I will use braid lines in the 80 pound range.

My leader typically will be at least rod length, up to 10 feet long, to protect the main line from the fish's rough armor and fins. I'll attach my line to leader with a high quality SPRO swivel or attach my doubled main line to leader with a no-name knot. (Yes, that's its name:

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Capt. George Tunison

I have caught tarpon on light line with no leader while fishing for other species, but overall a good leader is required and due to its abrasion resistance, invisibility and overall toughness, I'm a fluorocarbon guy even though it's ridiculously expensive. In clearer daytime waters I opt for 60-pound leader material and fish 80-pound in stained water. Fishing around structure at night I may use up to 120-pound test.

Circle hooks are a must and a 9/0 to 13/0 good quality hook will do the job.

Casting plugs to tarpon, especially at night, is a blast. A topwater strike from a hundred-pound night stalker tarpon is quite the experience. Hold the rod tightly at all times. If you are "sleeping" when the bite comes you may find yourself instantly standing rodless on the front deck. I use a 71/2-foot tarpon action spinning rod and reel loaded with 65-pound Power Pro braided line and a 60-pound test leader.

Consider replacing the treble hooks with single hooks on plugs intended for tarpon. Trying to remove a plug armed with trebles from the throat of a thrashing boat side tarpon is dangerous for both fish and angler. Simply cutting the line and releasing the fish is not an option as it's certain that your 25- to 70-year-old fish soon will starve and die. Always have proper release tools ready to facilitate a quick and healthy in-water release.

Fly rods and tarpon are a great match. Many newcomers can't seem to get their heads wrapped around the idea that a 200-pound tarpon will greedily chase and eat a two-inch long bunch of feathers tied to a hook. A typical rod for large tarpon usually will be an 11-12 weight. A 10 works great for smaller fish, say in the 25-50 pound class. This is a general overview and your fly rod choices will vary with your experience. A fly rod caught tarpon is a lifetime memory and should be on your bucket list.

Capt. Bouncer Smith, a legendary Florida multi-species guide with nearly 5,000 caught-and-released tarpon under his belt, rigs his basic tarpon setup as follows: Tie your main line to your leader; your end of your main line should always be doubled by using a Bimini Twist or other line doubling knot, then attach the leader to the doubled main line using a "no-name knot." Leaders typically are 10-12 feet. Add the hook.

Sometimes he uses a short piece of single strand wire tied to the leader's end because the tiny raspy teeth of the tarpon "grip" the mono leader while thin wire slides effortlessly allowing for no loss of power on the hookset.

The book "Baits Rigs and Tackle" by Vic Dunaway, is also a great reference book for knots as well as the website -

Whether you enjoy bumping boats at Boca Grande or stalking a hundred-pounder in skinny water, the tarpon experience is an all time must for serious anglers.

Tarpon fishing is a day and night game and best done with a guide while learning the ropes.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or, or www.flyingfinssportfishing,com.



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