Sarasota Tarpon Fishing
Many saltwater anglers consider tarpon to be the ultimate challenge. Sarasota tarpon fishing offers guests the opportunity to sight cast to tarpon that average 75 pounds and go up as high as 200 pounds. They do so using spinning tackle in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Anglers taking out a Sarasota fishing charter choose to target these fish in May and June.
Tarpon show up off the Sarasota beaches in early to mid May. They normally stick around until late July. In the early part of the season, they are usually bunched up in larger schools. This is particularly true as we come up on the full moon. Tarpon school up on the moon and then move offshore to spawn.
By early July these larger schools have broken up. The fish also don’t surface quite as well and there will be a lot of singles and doubles seen. However, these late-season fish bite better than do the early-season larger schools. I suppose it is because they have completed their spawning run and are more focused on feeding.
Tarpon fishing can be incredibly exciting! Standing on the bow the boat with your finger on the line in the bail open while waiting for the tarpon the surface can be nerve-racking. Then, the fish surface and the crab is tossed out just ahead of the school. The line gets tight, the fish leaps up out of the water, and it is fish on! However, there can be hours and hours in between when this happens.
Sarasota tarpon fishing
Tarpon fishing is not for everyone. It is as much fish hunting as it is fishing. Anglers get out on the beach just before first light. They sit patiently, 100 yards or so offshore. Then everybody just looks. Schools of tarpon can be seen moving through the area. They can also be seen milling or “daisy chaining”on the surface.
Once the tarpon are sighted, the guide must determine the best approach in stock the fish. Using an electric trolling motor, the boat is eased into casting range. There is a lot that goes into this. The guide must determine the direction the fish are moving in the speed at which their doing so. Also, the interval between their surfacing is a huge component.
When everything goes right, the boat will be in a position where when the fish surface the anglers can get baits in front of the fish. The optimum opportunity would be a very slow moving school that is just easing along and staying up near the surface. This will allow the guide to put the boat in the proper position, resulting in an easy cast for the angler.
Tarpon bites can be surprisingly subtle, given the size of the fish. This is particularly true when casting to milling fish. Often times, the slightest tick or bump is all that will be felt. It is actually a lot like largemouth bass taking a plastic worm. The bite is easier to feel with fish that are moving as normally the line just gets tight and moves off to the side.
We don’t set the hook when of tarpon takes the bait. This is difficult for many anglers to not do. The technique when employee when a tarpon takes the bait is to keep the rod tip low and just real as fast as possible. Once a line gets tight and the fish is taking drag, the rod tip is raised.
Now comes the hard part! There is a saying, “bow to the Silver King”. When the tarpon jumps in the line is tight it will often throw the hook. So, the angler must be ready, and as soon as the fish clears the water he or she takes the rod tip and points it right at the fish. This will result in the fish jumping on a slack line. This is something that only comes with experience.
Sarasota tarpon fishing tackle
Spinning tackle is used on the majority of Sarasota tarpon fishing trips. The reason for this is the need to make a cast. It is simply difficult to cast a 3 inch crab or small bait fish using heavy can conventional tackle. These spinning outfits are quite beefy, though.
7 foot to 8 foot spinning rods mass with 6000 series and larger reels are the preferred outfits. Reels need to have smooth drags, large handles, and substantial line capacity. If there are any weak spots in the tackle, tarpon will find them. These fish put an incredible strain on the line, knots, and tackle, so it all needs to be in tip top shape.
Terminal rigging varies by preference as every angler has their favorite. The first choice is whether to use braided line or monofilament line. Most anglers have now switch to braided line. Braided line can last all season and not twist up like monofilament line. It is also thinner, resulting in longer casts. However, it does not have the stretch, which can sometimes be a good thing with a tarpon on.
A leader of some sort is used when Sarasota tarpon fishing. When using monofilament line, I like to double about 6 feet of the running line using a spider hitch. Then, I attach a 30 inch piece of 80 pound fluorocarbon leader and a hook. No weight is used, with the exception of times when the crabs are really small. A pinch on weight may be required in this circumstance.
Rigging for Sarasota tarpon fishing
Just like everything, hooked choices vary depending on opinion. Tarpon are large, in a large hook is required. However, just like in all fishing, it is best to match the hook to the size of the bait and not the size of the fish being pursued. A #4/0 octopus live bait hook is a good all-around choice. Many anglers prefer circle hooks, in which case a #8/0 works well.
I still prefer the use of the conventional “J” hooks when tarpon fishing. I have not seen my hookup ratio chains with the use of circle hooks. Also, circle hooks are much meatier and sometimes putting one through a crab will kill it. Circle hooks are great choice when fishing larger live baits or cut bait on the bottom.
Anglers using braided line will need a longer leader, generally 6 to 8 foot. They can then attach the leader to the braided line using a double Uni knot or not of choice. Since there is very little stretch when using braided line, the drag setting is critical. If it is a bit too tight, the line will break almost immediately.
Not all anglers use spinning outfits, however. Some guides in anglers prefer to anchor and put a spread of baits out behind the boat. These anglers normally choose to use conventional tackle as there really is no need to make long cast with light baits.
While it is not quite as exciting as stalking the fish, it has several advantages. Several lines can be placed out at once, some on the bottom and other suspended under floats. This obviously ups the chances for a bite. Also, the heavier tackle allows the angler to put more pressure on the fish, subduing it in a shorter amount of time. This is better for both the fish and the angler.
There are several different approaches when using this technique. Some guides in anglers just choose a spot, anchor up, and sit there all morning. Others will employee the same site fishing method mentioned above. However, they try to get way ahead of the fish and anchor. They then deploy the spread and wait for the fish to come to them.
Tarpon fishing Sarasota; baits
Anglers can use live and cut bait using this approach. Some anglers go to the trouble of catching a lot of bait. They keep some of the bait alive, but most of it will be used is chum. Then, once anchored up they put a couple live baits out and a couple chunks of the dead fresh bait on the bottom. Then, a lot of the bait is cut up in the small pieces and tossed out into the water as chum to attract the tarpon and get them in a mood to feed.
A 3 inch blue crab is undoubtedly the top tarpon bait in Sarasota. These little critters are in high demand in May and June and can cost up to five dollars a piece. However, they cast very well, and live a long time. Most importantly, tarpon love them. The hook is carefully inserted near one of the tips of the crab.
Live bait fish account for many anglers Sarasota tarpon fishing. The number one live bait fish is probably a threadfin herring. These, along with cigar minnows, pin fish, and blue runners are caught using a Sikibi rig while out on the beach searching for tarpon. Live bait fish can be either free lined or fished under a cork. Corked bait fish are a great option when the fish are not showing on the surface very well.
Most of the fish will be moving from north to south. This is especially true early in the year. After the full moon in June, more fish will be seen heading northbound. It seems as if they are heading to the mouth of Tampa Bay to feed.
Tampa Bay tarpon
Speaking of Tampa Bay, an interesting fishery has developed over the last few years. Huge schools of tarpon seem to be congregating there at the mouth of Tampa Bay just off of Been Point. Locals call this “Boca Grande North”in deference to the famous spot about 50 miles south of Sarasota well-known for its tarpon fishing.
This type of fishing is not for the faint of heart! Local tarpon anglers, especially some of the guides, will be quick to let you know that you are in their way. There are a lot of boats in a small area and it can get crazy when multiple fish are hooked at once. Novice anglers will do best to sit back a bit and watch and see how the other boats interact before jumping into the fray.
There is a neat bite that happens occasionally, called “Hill tides”. These are strong afternoon outgoing tides that occur several times a month. A small purplish crab called a “pass crab” gets caught up in the strong current. Tarpon feet heavily on these crabs as they are easy prey.
The technique is fairly simple. Anglers use a debt net and scoop up a dozen crabs or two for bait. Then, either look for feeding fish or just set up a drift and free line the baits out behind the boat. When the bite is on, the fishing can be incredible. Anglers do need to be careful of the afternoon thunderstorms. This is big open water and it can get nasty quickly. Current Florida tarpon fishing regulations can be found HERE.
Sarasota tarpon fishing etiquette
Tarpon fishing is very competitive. Unfortunately, there can be confrontations out there. There are some rules of etiquette that most of us follow. Some anglers don’t know these or can get caught up in the heat of the moment as it is very exciting. Here are a few rules that we all try to follow.
- there is a slot that the fish usually swim in, from 100 feet out from the beach to about a half a mile from the beach. Whenever possible, try not to run at high speed on plane in this area. This is especially true early in the morning. Boats running over top of the fish will put them down and they won’t show or eat.
- Most fish will be moving from north to south. If you see fish coming in there are no boats between you and the fish, just sit there and let the fish come to you. This usually works better than charging up on them.
- If another boat or boats is working a school, give them room. It is okay to stay where you are and if the fish come to you take a shot. But don’t drive in on a school that other anglers are working. The exception to this is when they waive you in.
- Some anglers choose to fly fish for tarpon. This is very difficult as they need to get fairly close and need the right kind of fish. Give anglers flyfishing a school a very wide berth or better yet leave them alone to work the school.
- Do not cast your line over top of tarpon that are moving away from you. This never works, all it does a spook the fish. If they get past you, give them time to put some distance between you and the boat. Then, idle around in front of them giving them a wide berth and set up again.
- Once a tarpon is hooked, try to get it out of the school as quickly as possible. Sometimes this is difficult. But, the quicker the the fish can be pulled out of the school, the better chance anglers down the beach have of hooking a fish.