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It’s prime tarpon time in area waters

May 22, 2013
By Capt. BILL RUSSELL - On the Water , Pine Island Eagle

There are a lot of methods and areas to fish tarpon in Southwest Florida and right now is the prime time to hook into the silver king. With thousands of the popular game fish within easy reach anglers gravitate to our area to have a chance at battling the majestic king.

Calm mornings often give the best opportunity for sight casting and generally first light is the preference for many fly anglers. Some days the fish are active all day and others they are difficult to locate, but mornings they generally show with more consistency.

Tarpon are a big fish with a large tail, they can cover a lot of water.Often schooling fish will show up several miles from the previous day. Although most anglers target the large schools, there are plenty of them scattered out throughout the area.

Article Photos

Photo provided

Michelle Berrette and her husband, Tracey, come for a week to Sanibel from the Northeast just to tarpon fish every year. Michelle is shown with one of many tarpon she caught off our gulf beaches over several days fishing with Capt. Bill Russell. 

Large schools are found cruising or daisy-chaining, either in large tight groups or widespread off our gulf beaches from Bonito Beach all the way north past Tampa.

In our area, longtime favorite areas off the beach, include off of Sanibel near Knapp's Point, and Cayo Costa and Gasperilla Island. However, they are likely to show up almost anywhere along the beaches, the key is to get out early on a calm morning, shut the boat down and watch for active fish.

Of course, Boca Grande Pass may well hold more tarpon than anywhere else in the world; it's a difficult place to learn to fish as you are often fishing side by side with a lot of boats in a very heavy current.

There is a lot of controversy currently going on in the pass; personally I think it's a good place to stay away from, but if you really want to fish it I suggest you either hire a pass guide or go with someone that has experience in the pass. Another option in the pass is to hit the afternoon hill tides. This is a strong afternoon falling tide that occurs near the new and full moons. During this period small crabs are flushed from Charlotte Harbor through the pass often by the thousands with just as many tarpon waiting to slurp them from the water. This often happens at a lower scale at Captiva and Redfish passes on the same tides without the crowd of Boca.

For the last several years it's common for the large schools of tarpon to vacate Boca Grande Pass in the morning and move up into Charlotte Harbor, the northern sound or the beaches. Just like off the beaches, shut down and observe, on a calm sunny day a tarpons body reflects the sun like a mirror and are easy to sight from a long distance.

Most fish these tarpon from a distance and use a trolling motor to maneuver into casting range, there is, or should be, a lot of etiquette as often there are many boats working the same school. Tarpon either in large schools or small pods are likely to show up throughout Pine Island Sound, most seasoned veterans have their favorite spots, spend some time looking, observing, and learning and you will soon have a list of your own. Of course, tarpon are nocturnal feeders as well, the passes and around bridges is a good place to hook into one after the sun sets.

Like any fishing there is a huge array of methods and baits that all work, you just have to decide what is best for you. Many anglers' only target tarpon with artificials, while others primarily fish with live bait, then there are fishermen who enjoy the more relaxed method of dead bait fishing.

Tarpon are nothing more than a scavenger in shiny armor; they well eat just about anything when they are feeding. That's the key to be around them when they are feeding, believe me it gets pretty frustrating when you're surrounded by fish, armed with perfect baits and they aren't interested.

There are a lot of good tarpon fishermen around the islands, if you are unsure ask around and I bet you well get plenty of good information. Everyone needs to experience the adrenaline rush when a big tarpon slams that bait and explodes from the water with their high flying, gill rattling leaps. Just be forewarned, it can get very addictive!


If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact us at: Phone: 239-283-7960; Website:; Email:

Have a safe week and good fishin'.



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