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River, canals hold resident tarpon

December 31, 2015
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Christmas here and gone with 2016 upon us. There are many reasons to like Christmas - giving, family, friends, time off, and the fact that within 16 weeks or so tarpon will return from down south.

For those that must put a tarpon in the air soon and don't want to travel to a remote exotic (expensive) location or don't even have the time to travel to the Keys, the Caloosahatchee River and the Cape's miles of canals are calling your name.

Locals know the river holds resident tarpon (non-migrating) year-round and the colder it gets the hotter the action. Why some tarpon stay home and some migrate south is anybody's guess, but we'll take it!

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Capt. George Tunison

For dead of winter tarpon fishing most of the action is centered upriver at the Franklin Locks and areas around the power plant at the I-75 bridges where tarpon can be caught on live or dead bait offerings. For the persistent angler, lures. Live ladyfish and catfish freelined or under floats are good choices. Jumbo shrimp presented on jigs or under floats sometimes will score as well.

That said, winter tarpon are notorious for having lockjaw for days on end only to feed heavily for a short time. For this reason I don't book charters for winter tarpon. The deal is you have to be there, pay your dues and put in the time. The Franklin fish are well known for this, but do eat. Multi-day trips are recommended if you have the time.

Deeper water around the I-75 bridges near the power plant can provide action as well using the same techniques. A friend spends his winter afternoons using his trolling motor to very slowly swim ladyfish or mullet behind the boat stopping every 40 yards or so around promising structure to let the baits settle toward the bottom. Every winter he catches tarpon like this and huge snook as by-catch.

Be prepared for some of the area's biggest jacks swimming in these warmer areas as well as wintering redfish.

Why leave The Cape? Scout your local canal system and map deep holes. Fish areas you've seen tarpon activity in the past. Get reports from neighbors and local tackle stores in the Cape, like Capt. Rob's (239-540-FISH) or The Snook Hut (239-257-3615).

Put in your time using a variety of methods. Mostly small live ladyfish and jumbo shrimp would be a good starting point, but don't ever count out dead bait on the bottom for this incredible scavenger.

Trout will bunch up in deep pockets, channels and marinas as winter waters get cold. For now with the warm winter, it's still drifting grass flats time where shrimp under a popping cork is always a winner.

Fly anglers score big time as trout are fly crazy. When its gets colder the fly's ability to almost suspend in the fish's face really trips their triggers.

The usual assortment of spin fished soft plastics on 1/8- to 1/4-ounce light wire jigheads slowly bouncing on the bottom is a winner as is a live shrimp rigged backwards on the same jigheads. First, bite off the tail fan (or cut off) of the shrimp. The fan causes the shrimp to spin on the cast. Jig-rigging backwards allows the shrimp to look natural as you slowly bottom bump it back to the boat.

Adding a good scent to any lure will increase your cold water period odds. Some prefer GULP products. I use Pro-Cure shrimp and ladyfish flavors.

Tasty winter sheepshead are arriving at a pier, flat or bridge near you along with huge black drum hanging out at the Cape Coral and Midpoint Bridges. The sheepies will steal your shrimp and the 50-pound drum wants your half blue crab on the bottom.

Good fishing in 2016!

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



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