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Cape canals rich with hefty tarpon

April 22, 2016
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Paging through the big name outdoor angling magazines you'll see 50-foot offshore luxury sport fishing yachts chasing three-quarter-ton black marlin off the Great Barrier Reef.

Big game fishing at its peak to be sure, and very expensive unless you're an invited guest or celebrity.

Closer to home we are privileged to have our very own big game fish that loves the area so much that many never leave when fall weather comes. Those that do winter south always return to their SW Florida home.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

At this moment tarpon from 12 inches to over 125 pounds probably are in your backyard Cape Coral canal. With nearly 500 miles of canals and miles of river, that's a lot of fishing opportunities. You don't need to leave the Cape or hire a 50-footer, captain and crew. Actually, you don't need a boat at all.

This is Everyman's big game fish. Big and beautiful, high-jumping and incredibly hard-pulling, the tarpon does everything that gets an angler excited and coming back for more. Like beach walkers casting for lovesick snook in the surf, the mighty Silver King is accessible to the walking or dock bound angler throughout most of the Cape. (Photo on page 13A).

Tarpon can gulp air at the surface to supplement their oxygen supply allowing them to survive in low oxygen content waters. Tarpon also chase prey to the surface. Both behaviors of coming to the top to gulp air or surface feeding allows you to see their silvery sides flashing in the morning sun. With a little scouting at dawn to spot these rolling or feeding fish, you have completed step one - finding the fish.

After finding them take the time to observe them for a few days. Try and find a pattern. What time do they start rolling in the morning in your area? Are they there every morning or night? Around docks? Seawalls? Rip-rap? Do you see them in the evening? At night around docks and snook lights? Are they shallow along shorelines or in the middle over deeper water?

When you see them, take a mental note of the tide stage. Full or new moon? Are the surfacing fish busting bait on top or simply rolling to breathe? All fishing is a puzzle with the winner being the one able to fit all the pieces together.

Before you start casting make sure the area you chose to fish is legally accessible. Do you have permission to be there? Are you causing a problem by being there?

Even more importantly, can you successfully release your 10- to 125-pound tarpon standing six feet above the water on a seawall? The answer is mostly no.

Some will carry a long handled net to release smaller fish, but even that can have a detrimental effect on the fish removing vital slime, which is the fish's outer skin or barrier against bacterial and fungal infections. If you must, use a soft rubber net material, but even this is not really desirable.

When I'm on foot I look for access to the water's edge. I often find myself caught up in the moment standing ankle deep at dawn casting like mad at feeding fish. Considering we coexist with 12-foot dinosaurs this is definitely not recommended. Cast from up the bank and only come to the shoreline for a quick pic and healthy release.

Cut ladyfish brings catfish misery along with tarpon. Use cut catfish chunks and circle hooks instead or go crappie fishing style with live shrimp, circle hooks, and small floats.

I prefer casting small jigs (yellow or black) or fly rodding for tarpon using light lines. Most tarpon in my area are less than 10 pounds so 10-pound braid and 20-pound test leader material works great.

Size your gear accordingly and take all measures to safely release your prize catch.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-440-1621 or, or



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