Photo by Doug Olander
Captains catch tarpon in half a dozen ways, from trolling lures to slowly pulling liveys and from casting surface plugs to jigging. To gather suggestions for various methods and from tarpon fisheries worldwide, we asked captains to share just one page from their playbooks. Their information may be site-specific, but their sites mimic many other locations.
Trinidad and Tobago
Capt. Gerard "Frothy" De Silva, Hard Play Fishing Charters (868-639-7108; www.hardplay.net)
My favorite method for catching tarpon is slow-trolling live bait in the Bocas (the islands northwest of Trinidad). The currents there are usually quite strong (2 to 4 knots), and the fish and bait schools move around a small area in the Bocas.
I usually put out a spread of six live baits, and my setup looks more like a marlin spread than a tarpon spread - two baits long on the outriggers, two medium-long on downriggers set at 20 and 40 feet, and two short flat lines. By the way, we use only Momoi Diamond 30-pound line, which is more like 40-pound. We often hook fish well over 100 pounds, which can result in very long fighting times, especially in the hard currents and deep water in the passes of the Bocas.
I actually spend my time in the marlin tower of my 31-foot Bertram SF, where I keep my eyes on the fish finder and the surroundings looking for bait and rolling tarpon. Most of the time, I keep the boat heading up-current, shifting in and out of gear to keep in position where the fish are and to prevent pulling the live baits too fast. We also keep a constant trail of live chum in the spread.
Boca Grande, Florida
Capt. Artie Price, Professional Tarpon Tournament Series' four-time Team of the Year (Team Alehouse), Florida Tarpon Charters (727-378-4676; www.bocagrandetarponcharters.com)
The No. 1 thing I could say is use fluorocarbon on your reels as well as for your leaders. We use Berkley Vanish - 50-pound main line and 100-pound leader - and it makes a world of difference. The one year we missed Team of the Year (2008), we didn't have Vanish.
The line is invisible underwater. I know because we can feel fish bumping into our lines, so they're not seeing it. We use it in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor. In the backcountry we use braid as the main line and Vanish as leader with threadfins and live crabs.
Capt. Chris Wilson, Rivers End Outfitters (504-289-1764; www.riversendoutfitters.com)
Putting a trolling motor on your boat is about the best tip I can give. (Smaller boats use bow mounts; larger boats use transom mounts). What we do is ride around and locate the fish. When we get close to them, we use the trolling motor to stay close.
I put out six trolling lines baited with Coon Pops (a lead-head jig with a grub tail attached to a circle hook - similar, in theory, to rigs described for south Florida and West Africa). We let out the lines according to the depth of the water. For instance, in shallow water - 20-foot depths - the short line starts out five seconds back. In deeper water - up to 100 feet - the short line starts 60 seconds back.
Also, while trolling, we cast to the schools with Coon Pops and Coast Hawks.
Capt. Bouncer Smith, Bouncer's Dusky 33 fishing charters, Miami, Florida (305-573-8224; www.captbouncer.com)
I was fishing with a television-show host some years ago, and he needed to hook sailfish on plugs for a TV show. The trebles were not getting a good hookup, and I thought a hook in front of the plug would get a clear shot at the jaw.
It then dawned on me that we could use the same thing to hook a much higher percentage of tarpon on plugs. Now it's my favorite rig for anything that eats plugs or jigs whole. It's great for seatrout, grouper, snook, black bass and tarpon.
Tie a 5/0 Daiichi D84 circle hook on the end of your leader. Thread a No. 3 Owner green-rubber bead onto your hook, and then pass the circle hook through the eye of your plug or jig, where you usually tie your line. My favorite plug is a Rattlin' Rap or the new Rapala subsurface walk-the-dog plug. A green-and-white Spro 1-ounce bucktail is high on the list; the best is a ½-ounce jig head with a 4-inch Berkley Gulp! swimming mullet.
Thread a second rubber bead onto the point of the hook. Now your tarpon will be hooked before it gets to jump and spit the lure, which really was just trapped behind its closed jaws.