Tackling the mighty tarpon

by James Hills, for Club LT

When you get a tarpon on the line, the fight is legendary and can last up to half an hour. However, unlike other legendary game fish such as marlin, you can typically get to the water where tarpon are in a short ride from the dock.  

That makes tarpon fishing a fabulous excursion to wrap an epic vacation around. 

That’s exactly what I did a few weeks ago in Punta Gorda, Floridaone of the top areas in the country to catch these majestic fish. Not only is this destination world famous for fishing but it’s got great food, off road trails, friendly people, and sugarwhite sand that the gulf coast of Florida is known for. 

Tarpon are native to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean including the United States as well as Africa and parts of the Indian ocean. They can reach eight feet long and up to 300 pounds. Unlike other fish though, this is entirely a game fish; the meat is not particularly good to eat and it’s so large that you aren’t supposed to even bring it into your boat for fear of damaging organs. Not only can they grow to a huge size but they have the ability to jump completely out of the water in a spectacular display. In my case this jump ultimately snapped my fishing line and I was left with just a fleeting glance of a beautiful 100+ pound fish that will remain in my memory for years to come. 

Charlotte Harbor Florida has tarpon available nearly year-round, but the best part of the season is late spring to early summer during spawning season when the fish are particularly active.  

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One of the best spots to catch tarpon here is just off the southern tip of Boca Grande Key at the mouth of Gasparilla Sound/Charlotte Harbor. This narrow inlet has a swift tidal current that pulls tons of food through it that the tarpon love to eat. 

Tarpon fishing in this spot goes on almost around the clock, but for us we set out an hour or so before dawn and cruised to the spot under the stars with only the noise of the boat’s motor disturbing the quiet morning air.  

Upon arrival our guide pointed out the dozens or maybe hundreds of fish swimming below us and everyone in the boat got excited for what we were able to do. 

Unfortunately, despite being able to see the fish below us and the fish jumping out of the water around us, they are insanely resistant to biting. Compared to my other fishing experiences in the area where snook were nearly jumping right into the boat, this was frustrating but allowed us to test different techniques ranging from live bait to lures. 

While I was the only person in our group of three guys plus the guide to see his fish, we all got a chance to fight with fish more than once. Unfortunately nobody was successful in landing one. 

I suppose that’s the fun of fishing though. It’s truly a test of man vs nature and if it was easy everyone would be doing it! 

Tips For Successful Tarpon Fishing 

1. Tidal channels are one of the best spots to find tarpon and this is especially true when tide is going in or out. At midtide when the water slows, the fish tend to spread out to other areas in search of food.

2. Live bait including mullet and small crabs work well to attract tarpon.  

3. You can troll as well as drift with the current as we did as the tide pulled us through the inlet and dragged our lines through the area where the tarpon were feeding. This seemed to work well in this spot as we held our lures and bait a few feet off the bottom of the inlet. 

4. While the normal technique of setting the hook is critical to start the process of landing your tarpon, this is a far longer process than just a few moments of fighting like you might experience with bass, snook, or trout. Be prepared to spend 20-30 minutes or more to bring the fish to you. Quickly head to the fighting chair and prepare to pull the fish in but be careful to provide enough slack when it jumps out of the water so that you can avoid snapping the line like I did.

5. Tarpon have large eyes and excellent vision. This makes fishing at night, dusk, dawn, and on cloudy days with low light the ideal times to get them to bite. While this is the ideal time to catch them, I think you’d miss out on the excitement of seeing them jump around you so this is something you should balance out with a pre-dawn to mid-morning trip like we did. 

Thank you to Punta Gorda, Florida for inviting me to experience this bucket list adventure and to Captain Jordan Ingman as well as Captain Jay Withers who got me excited about coming back for tarpon season when I fished with him several years ago. 

About James Hills
James writes the ManTripping blog and lives in southern California. For more than a decade, ManTripping has been a leading male lifestyle blog covering food, fashion, travel, toys, action and adventure – you know, man-things. James shares his wisdom regularly on Club LT and is often featured in the Club LT podcast.

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