Now that tarpon season is in full swing common questions new anglers ask is how to rig for tarpon? Size rod and reel? Lines? Hooks? Leaders?
First, let's look at rods and basic tackle. Will you be on the beach, in the passes, on the river at night around the many bridges? Where you fish dictates tackle selection. Are you a lure guy or live or dead bait fan?
Bridge fishing or structure fishing for large and powerful fish like tarpon requires heavy tackle if you want a realistic shot at actually landing the fish. A 7 1/2- to 8 1/2-foot medium heavy to heavy rod with a Penn 4/0 bait caster style reel is a good start. Load it with 40- to 50-pound mono or 80- to 100-pound braided lines.
Capt. George Tunison
Mono is stretches more and is forgiving of those wild and wide head shakes that pop hooks especially when you forget to give line or bow to the king on those jumps.
For leaders use 100- to 125-pound fluorocarbon tied to a high quality circle hook (do not use bargain brand hooks, they aren't sharp). I'm an Owner hook fan and I'll use a 10/0 to 12/0 circle hooks for dead baits and a 7/0 to 9/0 for live ladyfish.
Don't fish bridges with fairy wands and tackle as most times your fish will be lost with your hooks or lure in its mouth or throat and in many cases, later die.
In open water where snagging on structure is not an issue much lighter tackle can be employed if you are skilled at fighting big fish on light rods and you can follow the fish with the boat before he spools you. Fishing along the beaches or the open harbor is best for your light tackle tarpon quest.
In this case I'll go to a seven-foot spinning rod with a med-heavy action. Using 17- to 25-pound mono or 60-pound braid for lines and 60-pound fluorocarbon leaders. My bait dictates my hook size.
Fly guys will break out 10-12 weight rod to cast hooks, hair, and feathers. Yes, 200-pound tarpon eat two-inch long flies with gusto.
Most anglers take pride in catching large fish on light tackle. Yes, you can take a large tarpon on 12-pound test. The down side is playing these big fish to the point of exhaustion on light lines in hot weather can easily result in death for a 50-year old fish.
Give them a break and use tackle that allows good sport, but will land the fish in a reasonable amount of time resulting in a true live release.
It also allows you to get back in the game and hook another versus beating one poor fish to death in a 90-minute encounter, then releasing it to possibly die hours later.
Setting up your lines and leader is as simple as running the main line to a swivel then tying your leader to the other end of the swivel.
Another way is to join the line to leader with the uni-knot. Yet another is to learn the bimini twist to double your main line then attach your leader to the doubled line with a no name knot. (Knots are shown in drawings and animation on netknots.com)
For anchored style bridge fishing have the anchor rope tied to a large float then to the boat so during hookup one man can throw the anchor rope, start the boat and follow the fish through the bridge returning later to retrieve the anchor.