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Disappearing tarpon still a mystery

May 20, 2016
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

I haven't received many reports of steady tarpon activity or catches. Recent reports indicate more fishing than catching with lots of hours being put in.

The usual early spring tarpon fleet off Knapp's Point has done really well on sharks, but not so much on the fish they are targeting.

The resident canal tarpon that have greeted me every morning for the last eight weeks suddenly have vanished to parts unknown.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

To me, there is no fish more mysterious, unpredictable, or more frustrating than the tarpon, which makes catching one even more special and rewarding.

I can't count the number of times I've been in the boat with tarpon busting bait or rolling all around the boat yet not been able to interest them in anything we throw at them. Don't get a complex, just understand tarpon become fixated on one food source and typically shuns all other baits leaving the angler or client frustrated and confused.

If you can't wait to hook up and your luck is dragging and you have the time then by all means head south to the Keys. A recent trip using live crabs put three fish in the air with two being released at boatside while fishing the many bridge channels.

A live mullet, one of the preferred live tarpon baits in the Keys, brought the biggest tarpon of the trip next to the boat for a healthy release only to be attacked and eaten by a huge bull shark a brief moment after I let the fish go. There is a great night bite as well. Plug casters fishing around the Bahia Honda Bridge (using Bomber Long A's) had action with several hits and a few releases.

By all means change out those treble hooks on big lures and replace with single J hooks. Releasing a huge tarpon at night with a mouthful of trebles is risky business for angler and fish alike.

If you haven't been fishing in these areas I highly suggest leaving the boat at home and using a guide on your first trip. In the long run it's a winwin as you save time, money, frustration, and as a bonus you learn from a local pro.

Tarpon fishing is a year-round game in the Keys and local bays.

Don't have a tow membership for your boat? Bad news! Local angler Roy pushed the limits and headed nearly 60 miles offshore on a great day. On the return trip at nearly 50 miles out he lost his lower unit. Now what? Calls to the Coast Guard and their calls to Sea Tow had the crew rescued and being towed home within 2 1/2 hours.

Without membership the rescue would have been thousands of dollars. Membership is less than $200 annually.

Those not up to speed on using cast nets to gather fresh bait, but still want those little snook and tarpon snacks to use in a day's fishing, should buy a Sabiki rig available anywhere. Most know it's a single weighted line with evenly spaced tiny hooks and lures that catch multiple bait fish when lowered and jigged around structure.

Problem is it doesn't take much to turn this line full of hooks into a tangled throwaway mess, wasting time and money. I know. I was on a friend's boat last week and he showed me his Sabiki rod and now I want one. The cool thing is the line full of hooks is fully retracted into the hollow rod for storage and future use without tangling. Good investment if you aren't a cast netter, but still want live finfish for bait.

Gather bait at the Sanibel Causeway with nets or Sabiki them. Don't overcrowd your well and provide constant aeration for best results. The hotter the water gets conditions become more critical in your live well. Pay attention.

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



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