WINTER COLUMN: Confession time: I've never caught a tarpon

Jack Hall and Steven Michaels, with a big tarpon they landed last year at Cape Island, north of Bull's Bay.

I’ve written about them, talked to expert captains, attended seminars and launched a number of my own ill-fated tarpon expeditions. I’ve seen one roll on a bait behind a nearby boat.

But so far, nada, I’ve never caught a tarpon.

I’m pretty sure we hooked one near a sandbar in Bull’s Bay once — it was either a tarpon or the mother of all redfish. Whatever it was ran like a freight train for at least 50 yards before throwing the hook or dropping the bait. The strike left a whole menhaden kinked and crushed, but not cut, so my buddies and I agreed to declare it a tarpon hook-up.

Frustrating? A little bit. But I know they’re out there.

Every summer, big tarpon migrate north from Florida, following mullet and menhaden north into the Lowcountry’s coastal waters. The local tarpon season lasts from late summer all the way into October, with some of the hottest fishing sometimes coming at the end. Trophy-caliber fish can tip the scales at 150 pounds or more, and the fight can last for more than an hour. I’ve heard great fishing tales of hooked-up tarpon leading boats on merry chases across miles of coastal waters.

Tarpon inhale almost anything the tides flush out of inshore waterways: mullet, menhaden, crabs, whiting, croaker and even ladyfish. They visit almost every inlet along our coast, including well-known hot spots such as Deveaux Bank to the south and Bull’s Bay to the north.

Plenty of tarpon have been caught at spots around Charleston, too, including at the jetties, Dynamite Hole, the rocks off Morris Island and Stono, Capers and Dewees inlets.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to give tarpon fishing another try. This time around, I’ve got a secret weapon. We’re planning a tarpon fishing story for the next edition of Tideline magazine, and I’ll be working with a local angler and writer who claims to know a thing or two about the Silver King. We’ve got some dates lined up to give it a try.

We’ll see!

My source tells me we’ll be using stout tackle: 7-foot, heavy-action rods with reels capable of fairly strong drags and holding at least 300 yards of line. Think 6000- to 8000-series spinning reels or conventional outfits like Shimano’s TLD 15.

We’ll make float and bottom rigs with 3 to 10 feet of 80- to 100-pound-test monofilament leader, longer leaders for bottom-fishing in deep holes and shorter ones for use under big popping floats. At the business end of each leader, we’ll snell an 8-ought octopus circle hook.

We’ll use break-away sinkers with the bottom rigs, so that if we hook a big tarpon, it can’t use the weight as leverage to throw the hook when it jumps. This can be done with three-way swivels and short sections of light monofilament, or through the creative use of rubber bands and sinker slides.

We’ll be fishing sandbars and deep holes, most likely south of Charleston, and we’ll be ready for the chance to sight-cast to rolling fish.

My source has hinted about special baits, as well. One method “accounted for the majority of fish we hooked in 2011,” my source said.

Want to know what it is? Check out the next edition in about a month. It’ll be prime tarpon fishing time when it hits the streets.

And if we manage to catch one of these giants, you can be sure the pics will be on Tideline’s Facebook page. So stay tuned, and wish us luck.

Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or matt@