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Having the right gear, rigs will help when hunting tarpon

May 4, 2018
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Now that tarpon season is in full swing, common questions new anglers ask are "How do I rig for tarpon?" and "What size rod and reel, lines, hooks and leaders?"

Rods and basic tackle. Where you pursue your silver king will determine your tackle selection. Will you be fishing just off the beach, the flats, in the passes or on the river at night around the many bridges? Are you a lure guy or live or dead bait fan, or a dedicated fly angler?

Bridge fishing or heavy structure fishing for large and powerful fish like tarpon requires heavy tackle if you want a realistic shot at actually landing the fish. An 8 to 8 1/2-foot med heavy/heavy rod with a Penn 4/0 bait caster style reel is a good starting point. Load it with 50-pound mono or 80 to 100-pound braided lines. Mono is much more stretchy and forgiving of those wild and wide head shakes that pop hooks free, especially when you forget to give line or "bow to the king"

For leaders around heavy cover, use 100 to 125-pound fluorocarbon tied to a high quality circle hook (do not use bargain brand hooks - they aren't sharp). I'm an Owner hook fan and with this set up I'll use a 10/0 12/0 circle hook for dead baits and a 7/0 - 9/0 for live ladyfish.

Don't fish bridges with fairy wands and tackle, as most times your fish will be lost with your hooks or lure in its mouth or throat and in some cases, later die.

In open waters where snagging or being cut off on structure is not an issue, lighter spin tackle can be employed if you are skilled at fighting big fish on light rods and you can follow the fish with the boat before he spools you. Fishing along the beaches or the open harbor is best for your light tackle tarpon quest.

In this case, I'll go to a 7 1/2 to 8-foot spinning rod with a medium action, 60-pound braid for lines and 60-pound fluorocarbon leaders. My bait will dictate my hook size.

Fly guys will break out a 12 weight rod to cast hooks, hair and feathers to these giant fish. Yes, 200-pound tarpon eat 2-inch-long flies with gusto.

Many anglers take pride in catching a large fish on light tackle and it does take skill and a little luck to do so. Yes, you can take a large tarpon on 12-pound test. The down side is, playing these big fish to the point of exhaustion on light lines in hot weather can easily result in the death of a 50-year-old fish. Give them a break and use tackle that allows good sport but will land the fish in a reasonable amount of time, which will result in a true live release with no delayed mortality or your now weakened king becoming an easy shark snack.

It also allows you to get back in the game and hook another, versus beating one poor fish to death in a 90-minute encounter.

There are several ways to set up your lines and leader. It's as simple as running the main line to a swivel then tying your leader to the other end of the swivel. Another way is to join the line to leader with the Uni-Knot. Yet another is to learn the Bimini Twist to double your main line then attach your leader to the doubled line with a No Name Knot. (Knots covered here are shown in drawings and animation on

Don't want to learn the Bimini knot? Then tie the Spider Hitch to double your main line, then attach that to a swivel or directly to the leader. I usually double about a foot of my main line before attaching it to the leader.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-440-1621 or captgeoget3



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