To this day I still get that "buck fever moment" whenever a tarpon crashes through the surface, launching itself skyward in a violent thrashing display of raw prehistoric power.
I still have to mentally pinch myself to react quickly and not just stand there gawking with pie hole gaping like most who witness a tarpon launch for the first time. At night, all this is magnified, which to me makes the whole experience more exciting.
Thursday night a fat 100-pounder inhaled my ladyfish and the hidden Owner 9/0 circle hook, slammed the rod down, hooked itself perfectly and headed skyward as I struggled to get the rod out of the holder. Five furious jumps later he settled into a deep tug of war, finally giving a last defiant head-high jump not 10 feet from my rod tip before calming down enough for my partner to two-hand grab his rock hard lower jaw and control him. (Good job Lew!)
Capt. George Tunison
We traded places as I started the revival process while a few in-the-water photos were snapped. After getting his wind back the tarpon shot out of my grasp and strongly swam away.
As I was holding the tarpon, reviving him in the swift, dark, outgoing waters, I couldn't help but think of all of the thousands of area sharks, all now directly massed under my boat that realistically could bite this six-foot long fish in half with a single bite, taking off my arms up to elbows with it. That would put a real crimp in my guitar playing. Night time imagination, but not totally unrealistic in these waters.
Tarpon guru, Capt. Bouncer Smith recommends holding the fish into the current while slowly moving forward, while turning slightly toward the fish, so as to not hit it with the prop after you release it.
Tarpon can be taken any number of ways both day and night and in our area, year round. I like fishing the river at night as it adds an extra element of fun and intensity and its lots cooler than daytime tarpon hunting.
The Caloosahatchee River bridges, docks, piers, and other structures all host big fish. For some reason many are fixated by the Cape Coral Bridge and don't fish the many others which all hold big jacks, jumbo snook, trout, cobia, shark, grouper and tarpon of all sizes. Many nights I have the whole Midpoint Bridge all to myself while the Cape Bridge is crowded. All the bridges draw tarpon, all the way up past the RR trestle to the Franklin Locks.
Most bridge fishermen anchor uptide from the bridges and cast or drift live and dead baits back to the structure or shadow lines. Some freeline live baits like ladyfish or put them under balloons or floats and drift them back as well. Others cast lures or flies. Pick your passion and go to work.
Night fishing has built-in dangers. Under the stars tarpon fishing is best left to the experienced or under the wing of a licensed guide or knowledgeable friend. These fish are big, powerful, frantic, and built like tanks.
Thursday's tarpon almost entered the boat on one close-in jump. I've seen it happen three times to other boats nearby and it's a sight to behold. I witnessed one huge 41 Bridge tarpon enter a boat and knock out the cooler, two rods, a large tackle box and broke the old center console loose from the deck all while the helpless man and wife watched from the safety of the poling platform.
A clean uncluttered deck, a game plan, flawless equipment, proper release tools, working navigation/ interior lights, plus hand-held spots to follow the fish, quick release anchor, and safety equipment make for a safe and awesome tarpon experience.
Ask a friend or book a guide. Just don't miss out on your shot at a thrill ride with the silver king.
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.flyingfinssportfishing,com.