In the next few weeks you probably will be hearing some incredible fish tales from Lowcountry anglers, stories with happy endings and stories filled with frustration. That's just the way it is when you are trying to catch a tarpon from South Carolina waters.
"It can be a humbling experience," said Capt. Mike Able of Able Minded Charters, who will be leading a tarpon seminar at 6 p.m. July 10 at Haddrell's Point Tackle in Mount Pleasant. "Guys down in the Florida Keys are catching them everyday like we're catching redfish. Up here, it's kind of like catching a blue marlin when you go offshore. You don't catch one every time, but if you do catch one it's the best feeling in the world."
South Carolina features a decent tarpon fishery that peaks in the months of July and August. Able said he uses 75-degree water temperature as the key to begin looking for the fish known as the silver king. They can be caught as early as May in South Carolina and as late as October.
Able said the average size of tarpon in South Carolina ranges from 60 to 100-plus pounds. His largest, he estimated at 125 pounds. There is a one-fish per person catch limit and the tarpon must measure at least 77 inches from the tip of its jaw to the fork of its tail. Because the tarpon isn't a table-quality fish, most anglers choose to release them.
The state record tarpon weighed 154 pounds, 10 ounces and was caught in 1987 by Hilton Head angler S.B. Kiser.
Successful tarpon anglers target their quarry along the beaches and ocean inlets, places like Bulls Bay and Winyah Bay.
"There's no a specific depth to fish," Able said. "They can be caught in two feet of water or 60 feet of water. Those fish are migrating up and down the coast, right off the beach."
Tarpon can be taken using artificial baits, but most fish are caught using live or dead bait. Menhaden is the most popular choice because of its availability. Croakers, pinfish and mullet also are productive baits.
"When those fish are migrating up and down the coast, they're eating, eating, eating," Able said.
Able said he generally sets up with two rigs fished on the bottom and two float rigs. He uses 50-pound braid line on large capacity reels and seven-foot rods.
On his float rigs, he'll usually use a top shot of monofilament line. The stiffness of the mono helps keep the float from getting wrapped around the main line which can lead to break-offs. He likes to use Blue Water Thunder floats or similar products.
Bottom rigs are fished either Fish Finder or Carolina style. He tries to keep the weight at a minimal size, usually 1 1/2 to 3 ounces.
A five-foot leader of 100-pound test monofilament and a 8/0 or 9/0 Eagle Claw circle hook, depending on the size of the bait, complete the rigs. A sharp circle hook is key.
Able said he thinks anglers sometimes over-analyze tarpon fishing and recalled just such a customer.
"I told him once you catch the first one, all the rest of this stuff isn't going to matter," Able recalled. "Sure enough, the next year he caught five. He was being so technical about the leader, the appropriate hook size, everything."