Tarpon season is now upon us and I have been successfully catching tarpon daily for the last 3 weeks. Tarpon fishing should improve daily as the population increases with the annual migration. Live bait is the deciding factor with so much small live bait in the area it is well worth the time spent to seek out larger bait to present the tarpon. Clipping the tails of a free lined bait to slow him down will make for an easier meal and improve your chances for the hookup.
Last week I received a call from the WaterLine Section of theCharlotteSun, a local source for fishing information that is distributed throughoutSouthwest Florida. The publisher asked to interview me for an article about tarpon fishing. I was on the boat with clients at the time and asked that he email me the questions and I would respond likewise. Below is his emailed questions and my answers for anyone interested.
——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Tarpon questions for WaterLine
From: WaterLine Weekly Magazine
Date: Thu, April 05, 2012 4:40 pm
GENERAL QUESTIONS – Your answers can be as long or as short as you like, but please respond in complete sentences. Very long responses may have to be edited for space (but maybe not, if the answer is really interesting).
How long have you been fishing for tarpon in Southwest Florida?
I am a 47 year old generationalFlorida native and fished theSouthwestCoast, specifically Boca Grande andCharlotteHarbor, fromEnglewood south to Marco Island my entire life. I caught my first tarpon at the age of 15
In that time, what has changed about the tarpon fishery?
An new aggressive behavior throughout out the entire area not just in the pass where fisherman rush the fish to try and catch them
How long have you been a tarpon guide (if applicable)? How important are tarpon to your livelihood?
I have been guiding since 1998. I fish year round, and tarpon are an important part of my business since I dedicate 4-5 months exclusively to tarpon and fish everyday day during April-June peak season day light to dark with doubles at near 100% booking capacity for the last 8-9 years. However I fish many other species and can not survive as a guide on the tarpon fishery alone so, I target many species and seasons to round out and balance my year and client base, about 90% of my clients are non resident anglers who I specifically market too bringing them in to the area, I have a very limited local client base
No one disputes that tarpon are fantastic gamefish. What is single biggest factor that makes them such a highly regarded opponent?
The shear stamina and will to escape once you have them on the hook
Where do you fish for tarpon (the Pass, the Harbor, the beach, etc.)? Why?
I fish for tarpon in the pass, the harbor, the beach, and offshore where ever I can find them because I like to hunt hunt big game, so just going to the same place every day doing the same thing requires less skill and I like to challenge myself by finding tarpon and figuring out how to catch them.
Do you prefer to use live bait or artificial lures for tarpon? Why?
In the early season the pre spawn tarpon are gorging on oily baits and protein filed crab so I use live bait like fresh thread-fin hearing, blue and calico crabs, after the spawn in late summer and early fall when the tarpon are post spawn I switch to various swim baits and hard plastic plugs. I no longer jig fish after 10 years of doing so and have dramatically increased my landing percentages and my repeat clientele
We all want to have tarpon here in Southwest Floridaforever. Do you think current regulations and angler attitudes will allow that to be the case? If not, what do you think needs to change?
The current regulation of the use of a kill tag is now obsolete and is flawed since the FWC now uses a DNA sample for research a Kill tag is no longer needed. As to the current aggression and attitude all animals learn behavior and adjust their behavior based on surroundings and outside influence. As with all intelligence whether highly evolved or less evolved it will always seek out the path of least resistance, in other words when the fish get too pressured in one area they will move to another. Not sure you could ever correct that.
Are you in favor of tarpon tournaments? Why or why not?
I am not in favor of any tournaments at this time in my career because of the damage caused by the weigh-in and the mentality of many to prove at all cost that they are better than anyone else in or not in the tournament. As to tarpon tournaments in particular I participated in the now largest Tarpon tournament from its beginning until 2009 and witnessed first hand how that lead to aggression that use to be only on tournament day that now stretches well through the week. Also the weighing of the tarpon and the handling by some is leading to a higher mortality rate for the tournament. Its very difficult to prove since the sharks clean up most of the mess. But I will tell you specifically that I complained to the tournament director that we where killing a lot of tarpon because I seen dead floating tarpon every Monday after the tournament and they where all 150+ pound tarpon, never smaller, with gaff holes in their mouths. In 2008 I won the last tournament of the series with a fish that my team and I hooked, fought and caught, in less than 20 mins never more than 200 yards from the weigh boat, I found that fish dead on Monday morning, I knew it was my fish, because when we went to gaff the tarpon it jumped and the tip of the gaff scrapped the side of the fish and made a very distinct mark on it its side. That fish can be seen on my website tarponcharters.com and if you look at that fish I won that tournament by weighing a tarpon that was so full of row that she was about to pop, It made me think finding that fish that way. I would add also that because the tournaments are held every weekend in Boca Grande Pass Only, both Saturday and Sunday, anyone looking to just go recreational fishing who works the regular 8-5 M-F work week has to contend with an aggressive tournament the entire season, and I don’t care what anyone says its not fun when you are not in that tournament to have to be fishing in the middle of it. Put yourself in the shoes of the guy who wants drive down on Saturday from inland Florida to have a relaxing day hanging around Boca Pass with his kids it might not be bad except that for the majority of the season he can’t, I know I was once one of those aggressors and now I am just the guide who tries to fish in there without a jig and not in the tournament
Do you have any other comments about tarpon fishing that you would like to make?
If I had to make one comment about tarpon It would be simple I have a 3 children, 2 adult one 9 year old as well as 2 grand children, who refer to me as Cappy, all like to fish and know what I do for a living and when the take their children fishing and I am dead and gone I hope that they will be able to go and catch tarpon like I did, and if there are non to catch I hope its not anything I did wrong.
JIG QUESTIONS – These are optional, so if you’d rather not answer, skip them. If you have a strongly held opinion, remember that your answers will be published – don’t say anything you wouldn’t be comfortable saying in public.
Have you ever fished with tarpon jigs in BocaGrandePassor elsewhere? (if elsewhere, please specify)
I fished with a jig when I first became a guide in 1998 until 2009, it was easy and productive but mainly because everyone else did, not because I like to follow others, but the real problem with jig fishing is not the snagging issue, the problem is it is the only form of fishing I know of that forces you to participate, because its near impossible to fish successfully any other way when the jig boats are doing what they do, that style requires you to participate for success. An interesting fact hardly anyone fishes with live bait in Boca Grande pass when the jig fishing fleet is in there, but in the afternoon when the tide is out going and the jig does not work well, there are plenty of guides and fisherman who jig fish fishing with live bait on the drift and not jigging.
Do you currently fish with tarpon jigs?
No, But I did. I also helped develop a fish head style jig as replacement to the round ball once I understood how it worked. The round ball would move in the current to much so the one I helped design was made aerodynamic so it would track straight, it is similar to an arrow head and its stays on target better than a round ball. In order to hook a tarpon with a jig everything has to line up correctly, its like trying to thread a needle you have to hit the exact spot to attach the line.
If you are a current or former tarpon jig fisherman, do you believe that tarpon are snagged, or are they hooked while attempting to eat the jig? What experiences or evidence has led you to this conclusion?
As to the snagging issue its not snagging its a form of foul hooking. The tarpon swim into the line and the line is retrieved quickly while hovering over the school and the hook catches on the outside of the mouth in a part referred to as the clipper. For anyone who is familiar with the Alaskan spawning salmon fishery or any other salmon fishery its the same principle. When I was 24 years old I went Alaska and snagged salmon with a weighted hook cast up river ahead of the salmon swimming up the current when you feel the salmon bumping into the line you reeled back quickly and the hook would sang the fish, at that time its was legal. Today its illegal to intentionally sang salmon in Alaska so the guides take the same weighted hook and add a salmon egg, use the same method as before but now they are required to release any fish caught any where but in the face, does not have to be in the mouth but in and around the mouth is close enough, and since you put the salmon egg on for bait the fish must have went after it since the State of Alaska decided that anything in and around the mouth is legal and if you put the bait on you give the appearance that you are not intentionally snagging the salmon. Sound familiar? In Boca grand pass you cast down (dropping your weighted hook past the school) and back troll your boat to keep the boat at the same speed as the current so the line is kept straight up in down perpendicular to the tarpon hovering over the school (in basic geometry perpendicular means meeting a given line or surface at right angles). With jig under the school and when you feel the fish bumping your line you reel up and if the angles are right your hook slides up and behind the clipper and gets hung, it appears that he must have went after the bait, since like the salmon egg in the aforementioned salmon scenario, when tarpon fishing you have a lead head and a plastic body attached to a hook. Couple of interesting points should be made here since tarpon Jump one that has the hook caught in the side of the body’s soft tissue will come off making it all but impossible to land a snagged tarpon, but when it runs into the line and fouls hook itself in the clipper it can be landed. I should also point out an interesting fact here if you do not fish with the jig hovering over the school and retrieve the line when you feel them bumping into it it does not work in other words you cant go out and free drift a jig with the line payed out behind the boat if you could then a former jig fisherman like myself would have never bought a blue crab to fish on hill tide, I would have just drifted by with my jig hanging out the back and caught fish like I do with a crab. And if that’s not true its easy enough to prove you take the tarpon tournament and require them to distance themselves and to fish in free drift and see how many fish they catch. Another interesting fact anyone disputing should look at the jig they are using and if its the one I helped design and still have one of the molds collecting dust in my shop they should reread my statement on how it works, I helped design this jig to track straight in the water to help hit the target better than the original round lead ball. One more quick note use a jig head with no plastic tail attached or better yet zip tie a spark plug to the bottom of a hook and paint it camouflage or by its more common name fire tiger or paint it black for concealment and see if you can catch a tarpon in the clipper using the jigging method, or any other way you can think to weight the hook from the bottom., and see for yourself. I would also add that this method does not work any where else I have tried many times to catch a tarpon with a jig outside of the pass it does not work, if it did the harbor and the beach would be full of jig fisherman when the fish leave the pass and there would be no need to throw that heavy 12 foot extra weighted cast net to catch a tarpons favorite food or spend time dipping up all the crabs on the crab flush.
Do you think jig fishing is an ethical practice, and do you think it should remain legal?
I can say this to the ethics of jig fishing, If I paid to fish at the Barrier Reef and caught a Grander Marlin and it was foul hooked I would have a hard time enjoying my trophy. As far as the legality it is rude form of fishing that requires everyone to participate so if you want to grouper fish the ledge in Boca Pass or catch snapper on the ledge or on the Pan and its jig fishing season you cant the boats will swarm you if the tarpon come near your boat so for that fact alone the FWC should look to some form of control not everyone coming to the pass in May and June are looking to catch a tarpon and if it cant be controlled to allow others the freedom to fish in peace than its no different than a disorderly conduct and that is already illegal.
Do you have any other comments about tarpon jigs that you would like to make?
If you use the jig and you should really study how it works and why.
Feel free to use my comments openly as quotes I will repeat them any where they are the facts as I know them
Capt Andy Boyette
Publisher, WaterLine Weekly Magazine