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What bait/lure to use depends on conditions -- and the tarpon

May 10, 2019
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Offshore trips this past Wednesday produced bountiful mixed catches. A three-party group from Ocean City, Maryland, led by white marlin angler Capt. Tony, had a great afternoon catching a boatload of red grouper up to 14 pounds along with nearly 50 various snapper species.

Tarpon are here big-time, showing up in all the time-tested locations and can be caught using a variety of methods from bottom fishing to throwing topwater lures at rolling fish or feeding fish.

When you see them roll on the surface, are they moving quickly in one direction as a group covering water? They are obviously on the move relocating to a new area with more favorable water conditions or food sources and might be hard to fool with your baits or lures.

If you happen upon a group of tarpon rolling, milling in one area, bait is flying and birds are buzzing, it's pretty obvious what's happening and you need to get your fly, plug or live bait in the mix.

See a string of tarpon moving up the coast in clear water? A fresh live baitfish or small crab under a tiny float might get one's interest. Cast far ahead to intercept their line of travel and so they don't get spooked by cast.

If you're a lure guy facing flat calm conditions and spooky fish, an unweighted soft plastic floating eel like a Slugo or Hogy, 6 to 10 inches long can work magic.

For best results, use a 6/0 circle hook that has a bait-keeper wire screw (VMC). Screwing the wire spring bait-keeper into the nose of the lure allows a strong hold on the soft plastic for long casts while keeping the hook fully exposed for big head striking predators. An exposed circle hook also allows the angler to get away with a lighter leader which is a bonus in clear, open beach conditions.

I've had the best success with this lure on calm conditions by making a soft entry cast way ahead of the moving fish and retrieving slowly along the surface in a straight line with no added rod tip action. If you get a lazy follower, then sometimes a pause and a few slight twitches might trip his trigger or, prey on his predator instincts and speed up the retrieve hoping to provoke a strike.

If your thing is throwing hard lures at big tarpon, then by all means dump those treble hooks they come with. Imagine being alone at night with one barb of a treble hook deeply imbedded in your hand and the other 2 hook points attached to a bucking tarpon's lip or worse deep in its throat, at night, with sharks lurking around the boat.

Night fishing for a fish the size of a tarpon can be a dangerous business. Treble hooked lures increase the danger unnecessarily to the angler as well as the fish.

Treble hooked MirrOlures can be desirable tarpon snacks but with its small size and three treble hooks per lure, it can also be not only a release nightmare but a tarpon killer. If the line is broken during the fight with a small lure in the fish's mouth or throat, the fish will likely die from trauma or certain starvation.

Stopping at the other main fishing bait and tackle shop of Southwest Florida, Fishin Franks in Charlotte Harbor (over the 41 bridges at Punta Gorda), I stocked up on VMC ultra-sharp inline single hooks from their Coastal Black series to replace trebles on tarpon and snook lures.

A 2/0 will fit MirrOdine sized snook fishing lures with 6/0s the right size for the large Bomber stick-baits that many tarpon anglers throw.

With redfish under the trees, snook on the beaches and tarpon in the air, it's good to be in Southwest Florida!

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



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