There aren’t many places that a 150-pound, silver, jumping, and breathing fish can hide except in our own beautiful, yet very murky, backyard.
When you go to other places in the world, you’re given an opportunity to see how they move and what they do. But not here. That has led to a problem where 99 percent of people fish for tarpon completely backward.
Now before the arguments ensue, a bit of clarity — tarpon are like our very familiar redfish. You can’t lump them all into one category. You have fish that stay around structure in current, some that crawl through the shallows, others that work back and forth through grass edges, and about everything you can think of in between. Tarpon are the same. They have different mentalities and move in a variety ways. Let’s discuss the type that is most commonly fished in the Charleston area — current swimmers.
The setup is familiar to us all. Big corks or balloons with live bait drifted back from behind an anchored boat in “wedge points.” These “wedges” are areas that are going to make the fish congregate as they come through. The concept of what’s happening is correct, but because you can’t see the fish moving, most people never realize the fish are coming in from the opposite direction of how they are fishing.
A tarpon is a simple creature. Life for the king is not about swimming headfirst into a swift current and spending unnecessary calories. It is about flowing along with the current and eating anything that happens to be in its way. So from a tarpon’s point of view, as he swims along downstream, the very first thing he is going to encounter is your anchor line. Now, while this may not spook him off, it will at least cause him to deviate slightly from his course. But maybe he misses it and continues straight.
As he gets closer, he begins to hear sounds of waves slapping a hull and feet banging around on deck. Alarms continue to go off in his head and again cause him to consider a course change. If he makes it past this point, the next, and usually final, encounter is a large shadow above him that looks suspiciously like his only predator, a large shark. For argument’s sake let’s say that out of 300 fish that may swim through an area on a tidal swing, only one or two don’t get spooked off immediately. That one or two now has to see your bait, do a 180 degree turn, come from behind and then eat.
Hopefully now, it becomes clear why only a handful of tarpon are caught this way throughout the year.
Take this information for what it is — a new piece to the silver king puzzle. Look at the problems created from the situation above and determine the best way to resolve as many as possible. Get on the water, imagine yourself from the king’s point of view, and enjoy tarpon fishing for what it is — a journey of exploration combined with a passion for the outdoors. Catching double-digit fish daily is merely a secondary reward, but know that it is possible.
Next time you’re out on the water, here are a few tarpon tips to try:
• Drift your boat with the current and fish the baits moving.
• Anchor so you can cast up current and allow your bait to drift through the “wedge.”
• Throw artificial lures (hint: tarpon love eating wiggly eels).
• Watch them roll and closely watch for the bubbles that follow (air being exhaled from their breath). That distance and time will give you their speed. Close roll-to-bubble ratio means the fish is close, maybe even sitting right there on the bottom. Get the bait or lure where the fish will be.
• Fluorocarbon leaders give you more abrasion resistance (pulling power over time) but have no stretch like monofilament (more forgiveness in the jumps). Know what you have tied on and fight the fish accordingly.
• When you hook up, chase the fish down and fight him from no more than 40 feet away but not straight over his head. The line pressure to his jaw will be significantly stronger than if you let him run 200 yards and try to fight him back in. (It’s physically better for the fish, too).
Remember, catching tarpon is exhilarating but unfortunately pulling them into the boat for a picture is an easy way to kill them. Please keep our breeding tarpon happy by leaving them in the water and reviving them with as much care and effort as possible.
Captain Graham Hegamyer is the owner of Southern Tail Charters.