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Canal tarpon?

July 12, 2013
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

I had casted and was daydreaming, watching the sun break the horizon trying not to think about the constant barrage of several hundred nasty noseeums orbiting my head trying to use my ear canals and nostrils as landing strips for entry into the great mothership. The rest continued their external feast as I unconsciously did the noseeum two step and continued my retrieve.

Working the small fly along a foot or so under the tannin stained waters in a classic triple strip then pause tarpon retrieve when suddenly a bright golden flash and a solid hit rocked me back as a 12-pound tarpon hit the fly, then the sky, again and again. After a great fight, I lay along the seawall holding the line watching this miniature powerhouse slowly gain its breath.

Thinking that tarpon of any size are marvelous creatures, he suddenly and fully recovered, flipped his head dislodging the fly which in slow motion flew up above my head and landed point down on my smiling bottom lip.

Summer brings a special tarpon season and the question: what is just as much fun as fighting a 120-pound tarpon? For me, fighting a 12-pounder, in any local canal on ultra light spin or fly tackle.

If you aren't aware, your new Cape canal home can be sitting on a backyard canal tarpon bonanza. How do I know if I'm infested with tarpon, you ask? Walk out back at dawn and watch for "rolling" fish. A rolling fish means a tarpon coming up for a breath breaking the surface exposing his back and distinctive shaped dorsal fin. They possess gills as well as rudimentary lungs and can use the lungs in low oxygen conditions allowing them to live and hunt in less than perfect water quality.

You have tarpon? Great! How do you catch them? Fly, spin, live and dead bait is your answer. Pick your poison and go to work. Baby tarpon, like their adult counterparts, can be incredibly finicky exhibiting behavior ranging from won't eat anything to feasting with total tunnel vision on one particular food source ignoring everything else.

Tarpon can see very well with those oversized eyes and light lines and long fluorocarbon leaders hook more fish. 12 pound braid in open canals or 20 near docks and structure. Usually 20 to 25-pound fluorocarbon leader material completes your 7-foot spinning outfit.

Lure slingers need to downsize to small jigs although small subsurface and topwater plugs will draw strikes. To me the jig or fly is the high percentage lure. Fly guys do best with downsized offerings as well and I often fish weighted flies like Clousers to fish nearer the bottom. Experiment with sink tips in deeper water.

Like to sit back and wait? Throw out a small circle hook pinned to a chunk of mud cat, mullet, mackerel, or shrimp. Yes, you will attract catfish but that's just more bait. Canal tarpon can be suckers for dead baits on bottom.

A small float with a small to medium live shrimp or small pinfish below it can be magic as well.

Backyard tarpon can be chummed and held in an area by a daily feeding of fish scraps. Once they are conditioned, add a circle hook in their chow and hold on.

If you don't have tarpon ask around, ask the bait shops or local guides. If you live on any canal system in the Cape, there are tarpon available. You must pay your dues, have patience and do your own scouting. Tarpon usually show themselves best at dawn so start keeping an early eye out. Driving around and inspecting canals with binoculars will pay off and I've found several hot spots using this method.

There are some canal spots that hold tarpon of all sizes year round but as a rule, there are no rules. Many times its here today, gone tomorrow

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



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