Also known as the “silver king” because of its size and appearance, the tarpon is one of the most sought after fish in Boca Grande and along Florida’s Gulf coast. Their primary habitat is the shallow coastal and bay waters along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. When they’re young, tarpon can also live in freshwater.
Although you can’t eat tarpon like you can a grouper or snapper, they are considered by many to be the most exciting fish to catch – their vigorous fight and impressive gymnastics make it the most popular gamefish for inshore anglers.
While tarpon are caught off areas like Apalachicola Bay, Panama City and Pensacola in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the southern part of the Florida peninsula is considered their ideal spot. Boca Grande Pass on the west coast between Sarasota and Ft. Myers sees large schools of record-breaking tarpon come through every May and June.
We invite you to learn more about the various baits – live and artificial – experienced anglers use on a tarpon fishing charter.
Tarpon fishing with live baits
Tarpon are considered to be scavenger fish, meaning they’ll feed on just about anything depending on the weather, tides and other conditions. Most anglers and charter captains will have a variety of baits on board to ensure they have something the fish will be interested in that day. Below are some of the more common baits used to catch trophy tarpon in Boca Grande.
* Shrimp – During the winter months when shrimp are running heavily, tarpon will eat them like candy. The fish will gather where the currents are pushing water from the bay into the Gulf of Mexico. The bigger the shrimp, the better. If possible, wild caught shrimp are much more desirable than ones purchased in a bait shop. When rigging a shrimp, you should place the hook underneath the chin and through the horn on top. Doing so makes the shrimp look natural in the water.
* Crabs – Many experienced fishermen in Boca Grande maintain that crabs are the best all-around live bait for catching tarpon. During the spring around the full and new moon, an abundance of crabs are washed out by strong tides into Charlotte Harbor where the tarpon lie in wait. Blue crabs are the most common, but there are also brown crabs and purple legged crabs in and around Boca Grande Pass. If tarpon fishing with crabs, hook the crustacean’s underside in the shell’s corner.
* Mullet – The mullet runs that occur in the fall provide a great opportunity to both catch this bait fish and find tarpon. While mullet are more difficult to come by during other times of the year, tarpon will still eat them if presented the opportunity. Mullet are also considered to be the best bait to use in fast moving water because they won’t spin as much as shrimp or crabs. When rigging your rod/reel, hook the mullet in the mouth either horizontally or vertically.
* Pinfish – This small fish (avg. length of 7-inches) is a popular bait for a variety of gamefish, including tarpon. They are called pinfish because their sharp spines can prick your hand if you’re not careful. Pinfish are found in shallow waters in seagrass beds and near bridges, piers or other pilings. Like the mullet, you should hook the pinfish in its mouth when fishing for tarpon.
Like we mentioned above, tarpon will theoretically bite just about anything. Many anglers have reported hooking a tarpon using a mullet’s head and chum. It’s not unheard of to see tarpon feeding on scraps at a boat ramp or marina.
Your tarpon guide in Boca Grande will have a variety of baits on board. Sometimes tarpon won’t be so interested in crabs but will gobble up shrimp, and vice versa. The right bait(s) will depend on the time of year, tides and other factors.
Tarpon fishing with artificial baits
While most anglers and charter captains prefer to use live baits, artificial lures can also help you land one of these prized fish. As with live baits, tarpon won’t bite on anything at any time. What works one day may not work the next, so if you’re using artificial baits, you should have a variety of lures to try out. Below are some of the more common lures for tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass.
* Hogy – These lures are designed to look like wounded baitfish (i.e. pinfish/mullet/squirrel fish) found in the flats. Hogy come in a variety of colors and sizes and can be used as a jig, swimbait or topwater lure. They can also be used in the deeper channel of Boca Grande Pass.
* Bomber – This type of lure has a round frame and floats on the surface of the water. Experienced anglers recommend the Badonk-a-Donk High Pitch specifically. These lures come in a variety of colors and mimic popular baitfish. Ones resembling silver mullet or speckled trout are the first choice for many.
* DOA Lures – These lures come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The shrimp-like lure is a popular option for tarpon fishing in Boca Grande since it closely resembles the live version.
In the end, you can try just about any lure, especially ones that imitate popular live baits. Your charter captain will provide guidance on properly casting and retrieving your bait. To learn more about tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass or to schedule your next charter, contact Capt. Bobby Woodard of Fly ‘Em High Charters today. Once you have fought a tarpon, you will see why so many anglers consider this one of the most fun fish to catch.
Fly ‘Em High Charters
Captain Bobby Woodward
Boca Grande, Florida