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Fishing for tarpon in Charlotte Harbor

July 27, 2018
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Although there will always be some tarpon relating to the passes this time of year, the main body has moved into Charlotte Harbor where they will stay gorging on baitfish of all types and sizes till it's time to pack up and head south once again.

Along with the tarpon are an army of sharks of all sizes that also provide great sport on properly sized tackle.

For anglers new to harbor tarpon angling, there are a few essentials you will need to put fish on the hook. The first two are patience and the willingness to put in the time to make it happen. Bringing a good pair of binoculars will also help.

Charlotte Harbor is a big pond so hunting is part of the game. Being on site early is also part of the deal. Break out the binocs and start scanning for diving birds feeding on bait-fish driven to the surface by predators below or sunrise reflected off chrome scales from surface breaking (rolling) tarpon either feeding or moving to find food or better water conditions.

Can't find birds or obvious tarpon, then move around till you find a massive school of baitfish on the surface. Where there is chow there are also predators.

So you think you're in the right area, so how do you get a bite? Are you a bottom fisherman, troller, live bait angler or caster? All four methods work, so chose and go to work.

Bottom anglers will anchor (with a quick release anchor in case you need to follow a big fish) and lightly chum with fish chunks along a channel while adding a few pieces armed with circle hooks. Ladyfish, mullet and Spanish macs make good cut bait, as well as catfish hunks. A great place to start is north Matlacha Pass as it opens into the harbor.

Speaking of cats, while bottom fishing you will also have a by-catch which can be a curse or blessing. Catfish will always be present as well as sharks and even a possible cobia.

Trollers can troll swimming plugs, jigs or plastic swim baits along baitfish school edges. Stagger lures to cover the water column. Switch out treble hooks and replace with single hooks on hard baits.

Trollers can also slow troll live baits such as live mullet, whitebait and ladyfish along baitfish school edges.

Casters will shadow baitfish schools and blind cast live baits, hopefully, to rolling fish with pinfish, whitebaits, crabs or live ladyfish or mullet. Try using small floats to suspend the baitfish or free-line them.

Pick your favorite match the hatch plug (trebles replaced with single hooks) or soft plastic swim baits or eels like a Hogy, tread lightly on the trolling motor and start casting.

Most aboard my boat are casters and simply can't stay in one spot too long so we do a combo. After finding fish or a baitfish school, put out a couple live baits off the back, one on a short free-line the other further back under a float with both in holders. Slow down the electric troller and have the crew cast plugs, jigs, flies, etc., into the bait schools while keeping an eye on the "livees" out back. With circle hooks in the live fish and the rods in holders, the tarpon generally hook themselves.

If you're anchored, do a little casting, or if the thought of working in the heat frightens you, then cast out a float with a plastic shrimp or baitfish imitation 3 feet below the float and let the ripple or waves work it for you while you relax.

Get out early, bring ice and water, binoculars, bait or lures or better, fish at night as all methods described above work in the moonlight.

With summer's heat, get the fish to the boat quickly and take whatever time necessary to insure a strong and healthy release.

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



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