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Picking the right gear for tarpon fishing

April 5, 2019
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

It's tarpon time and many new to the sport have many questions usually starting with, what tackle do I need? The tackle needed will be defined by your style of fishing.

Here is a general guide -- If you plan to intercept beach traveling tarpon and throw live baits or lures at them, an 8 to 8.5 med-hvy to heavy spinning rod and quality matching reel spooled with 50 to 60-pound braid and 60-pound test leader would be a good start. Long rods help with long casts.

This same outfit can be used to throw hard lures and soft plastics to night tarpon gathering around bridges. Switching to 60- even 80-pound braid and upping the leader to 80 will help you land more fish around crusty structure looking to end the fight early. Too heavy a leader will impede the action of some lures.

If you like conventional style reels (revolving spool bait casting) and aren't a fan of casting, preferring to soak dead baits on bottom or large live baits under floats or balloons while anchored, then you might choose a Penn (style) 4/0 or 5/0 reel and an 8 8.5 med-hvy conventional rod. For this type of fishing I like monofilament and around night-time bridges, I spool up with 60-pound main line and 100-pound test leaders. If you're out away from structure, then 40-pound mono and a 60-pound leader would be a good start.

Circle hooks are always highly recommended, especially for dead baiting on bottom. Much safer for the fish and angler.

Fly anglers will typically choose 12 weight rods for most tarpon work unless you specialize in hunting smaller fish then an 8 10 wt. would work fine. I spend lots of time each year in the Cape's many miles of canals catching tarpon from 5 30 pounds on an old 8 wt. rod. If you fish strictly around night docks, the 10 would be a better choice.

Again this is strictly a guide. Huge tarpon can be taken on very light tackle and if setting light tackle records is your passion, then pick an open water scenario like along the beaches to pursue your line class record.

Most of us enjoy catching a fish on undersized equipment as it confirms our skills and somewhat feeds our egos but typically and especially in warm water conditions, the fish suffer great stress, become very fragile and often die.

In Southwest Florida, an overheated tarpon might not only die from stress after a prolonged fight but in its weakened condition becomes easy prey for jumbo sharks that relish easy tarpon snacks.

Try and get the fish to the boat as quickly as possible and take the time to release it properly by holding the fish upright as the boat moves slowly forward, re-oxygenating the fish's system till it kicks away easily. At night this becomes trickier as a huge shark may have been tracking your tarpon and decide to eat the hardly moving meal attached to you during resuscitation.

Live baits for tarpon include pinfish, whitebaits, ladyfish, crabs, mullet and shrimp. Dead mullet, ladyfish, catfish and especially shad are preferred bottom baits.

For day lures, I'm a fan of soft plastic jerkbaits like Slugos or Hogys. Nighttime I'm fishing DOA soft plastics like Baitbusters and Swimming Mullets, as well as white and black Hogy eels on their Barbarian matching jig heads.

For smaller tarpon, it's hard to beat assorted small jigs and artificial shrimp.

When joining an anchored tarpon fleet, please don't barge in the middle of the pack. Stay back, observe, then pick a spot on the outside being respectful of those that got out of bed early and got set up properly.

Same with anglers along the beach waiting for moving fish to pass their location. Again respect, that could be you on a once-in-a-lifetime and often expensive trip.

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



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