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Small tarpon are just as fun to catch

June 21, 2019
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

While most new tarpon anglers are focused on the often back breaking task of catching and releasing a giant tarpon, quite a few tarpon fanatics like myself find as much pleasure in a 10 to 50 pounder on downsized tackle.

Similar to catching a monstrous Goliath grouper, once you've caught a few 200 to 400 pounders most folks have had enough, unless you're a real glutton for backbreaking punishment.

Two or three times a year, usually early summer and again in fall, juvenile tarpon appear in my stretch of the Cape's spreader canal and stay around for a few days to a few weeks then disappear. Typically these fish run in size from a couple of pounds to 20, offering incredible sport on ultra-light spinning rods or light fly rods while standing on my seawall in the early morning or at dusk.

Like tarpon anywhere, these fish can be very finicky and often frustrating as when they are obviously feeding many times and won't bite what I'm offering.

In the early morning when they roll or surface, they aren't always feeding but simply adding extra oxygen to their systems due to reduced dissolved oxygen levels in their environment.

When they are actively feeding, I've had the most success using small jigs and small flies on light leaders. For the past week any lure fished on a leader over 20 pounds is automatically shunned and clear fluorocarbon is a must.

The larger ones will take a soft plastic like a 3-inch DOA C.A.L. paddle tails fished on a light (1/8 to 1/4 oz.) jig head, but you will get more bites by dropping down to a smaller jig such as those tiny ones designed for pompano fishing with white and chartreuse as go-to colors.

For fly rod anglers, tiny streamers and shrimp patterns work best. The Puglisi shrimp fly is a great choice and even small bonefish patters like Crazy Charlie's and Gotcha's get the job done. One of the best fly choices is a Gummy Minnow in the smallest size available.

Use a light leader at least as long as your fly rod or longer for best results.

It's no secret that tarpon savor eels and when night fishing for full size adult tarpon, I'm throwing 12-inch Hogy eels on 1-2 oz. jig heads. Scale this down and purchase 3-inch very thin plastic worms used with 1/16 to 1/8 oz. jig-heads for these baby tarpon.

Put a small live shrimp or tiny crab out under a bobber while casting your jigs to double your chances of a hook-up, or put dead baits on the bottom just like for the big guys. Small live minnows will also work.

With hundreds of miles of canals and basins here in the Cape, tarpon of all sizes are available to anglers on foot, in canoes, Jon-boats and kayaks. If you don't spot any rolling or feeding in the canal nearest you, spend some time scouting in the early morning on foot or by car and you may discover your own downtown tarpon hot-spot.

With folks making the off-shore trip for a variety of snapper and grouper fishing, make sure you keep an eagle eye out for bad weather and don't push your luck even if you're on a hot bite. "Just one more" could make the difference when your 60 miles off the coast.

Get out early and return home before the afternoon storms kick up and be sure your boat, electronics and safety gear are in top notch condition before heading out.

Those new to the area will find that the flat, shallow Gulf of Mexico can turn on you rather quickly, making your 25 footer seem like 12 footer with everyone holding on for dear life.

Recently purchased a new off-shore rig and don't know the ropes? Take an experienced friend or consider hiring an off-shore captain to get you up to speed.

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



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