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It’s tarpon time — be prepared

April 28, 2017
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Tarpon time is upon us and the fever burns hot.

The early tarpon hunters can be found anchored in Pine Island Sound or off Sanibel.

It's easy to spot the anchored boats.

Here's what not to do if this is your first trip.

Do not charge into the middle of the pack with Lynard Skynard blasting, then suddenly stop, throw out your anchor and start fishing.

This method is known as the "No friends in a hurry method"

Idle down when you spot the pack. Stay back from the anchored boats while you figure out a game plan, then quietly get in position so as to not infringe on the others' boats' bottom baits and territory.

It's not their fault you didn't get up early.

So far I've gotten reports on slow catches in lower Pine Island Sound with quite a few man hours invested.

Last April/early May my log books show daily catches of juvenile tarpon in the canal systems I fish, rolling all over the place for a month. This year they were a total no-show.

The early tarpon fleet typically starts bottom fishing with river catfish hunks, mackerel, mullet, ladyfish or what some tarpon hunters consider the top bottom bait, shad.

Most anglers have a bucket list full of dream destinations and catching the huge trophies that reside there.

Jumbo brown trout on fly in the beautiful snow melt rivers of Chile or a crafty bonefish of over 15 pounds in front of Bud and Mary's in The Keys.

Yes, I'd love to be hooked to a half-ton Australian black marlin, who wouldn't?

But, if you get a thrill from chasing tarpon of any size, save your pennies for the ultimate tarpon trip to Africa where the really big boys hang out along the coast, with fish reported to be in the 400 pound range.

Can a 400-pound tarpon actually jump or do they just try and ram the boat like some crazed white whale?

Casting plugs to tarpon, especially at night, is a blast. A top-water strike from a hundred pound night stalker tarpon is quite the experience. Hold the rod tightly at all times. If you are "sleeping" when the bite comes you may find yourself standing instantly rod-less on the front deck.

I use a 7.5 to 8-foot med-heavy action spinning rod and reel loaded with 65-pound Power Pro braided line and a 60-pound test leader.

Consider replacing the treble hooks with single hooks on plugs intended for tarpon. Trying to remove a plug armed with trebles from the throat of a thrashing boat-side tarpon is dangerous for both fish and angler alike and simply cutting the line and releasing the fish is not an option as it's certain that your 25 to 70-year-old fish will soon starve and die.

Always have proper release tools ready to facilitate a quick and healthy, in water release.

Along the coast, in the passes, the harbor, the river and the canals of the Cape, the tarpon is king.

Right now big trophy female snook roam and feed at night as do gator trout. Put on your biggest topwaters and quietly wind drift a likely flat close to the passes late at night on a moving tide to catch a 30-pounder in knee deep water.

Just before dawn that same plug will nail your 7-pound spotted sea trout trophy and over the next several months both your trout and plug might get inhaled by a ticked off hungry tarpon in two feet of water looking for an easy 2-for-1 happy meal.

With warming water it's tempting to forget safety. Wear your life vests. How many of you over 50 can swim 100 yards? A few miles?

With the new style self inflating vests that really don't get in the way there's no excuse not to use them.

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



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