May is upon us, and as of the writing of this article, the tarpon fishing has been less than spectacular. An uncharacteristic March weather pattern seemed to have knocked the fish down just as the early season was starting to get good. I hope that by the time this piece of literary genius comes out, the hordes of silver kings have invaded our water with fury and clients’ expectations of huge jumping fish leaving holes in the ocean are, with any luck, being fulfilled. But what do we do when we have tarpon on the brain, but not in the water? It’s time to switch gears and adapt.
When I call my anglers to discuss what we will be doing on our trip, I do my best to get them excited while holding on to as much realism as possible. I tell them how the fishing has been the past couple of days. Wind and weather are always a topic, as well as how the bite has been. During tarpon time, I let them know that we will start out early looking for the first light bite, and hopefully it will continue through the day at various spots and tides. I also let them know that we will be ready to fish for whatever conditions Mother Nature presents us with.
In preparation for these days that I know will probably be tough, I leave nothing to chance. If I’m fly fishing I bring outfits from 8 to 12 weight. Bonefish flies, combo crab/shrimp flies, and a couple of different colored tarpon flies are tied onto the appropriate setups. I also make sure I have a couple of spinning rods tucked under the gunnel because, let’s face it, fly fishing isn’t easy! If one of my guys wants to use the long rod and can’t quite get the job done due to wind, visibility or just plain lack of experience, it’s nice to have the option to be able to get bit on a spinner. I explain that there is no shame in this. The only way to improve, is to stick with it and keep casting. But when the time comes that we need a hookup, most clients are happy that there is a spinning rod on board.
When the fly poles aren’t riding with us for the day, I make sure I have the full arsenal of spinners on board. Every outfit I carry are in pairs. I have 10 000 size Saragosa spinners with 50 lb. braid down to 3500 Sutrains with 12 lb. test. I also make certain that my bait and lures are stocked. I try to have a half-dozen crabs in various sizes for tarpon and permit in the livewell, as well as a couple dozen shrimp. I don’t use the cast net very much this time of year, but I always make sure that the pinfish traps are baited and rotated.
As far as lures that I can’t do without, there are a few that are always tied on a rod ready to roll. You always need to have a large plastic worm, like a Hogy, ready to pitch at rolling and tailing tarpon. I don’t know why they like them so much, and I don’t care. Do yourself a favor and have one ready at all times. Also, a suspending waxwing is an all-around great lure. They can be cast a mile and everything likes them. I take the forward hooks off and replace the rear hook with a Hamamatsu SC-17 3/0 or 4/0. Ya gotta have a tube lure ready too. You never know where a big barracuda will be lurking. A variety of bucktail jigs rounds out the necessities I keep on my boat. Military survival packs contain, among other life-saving items, monofilament line and bucktail jigs. That says something to me about their effectiveness.
So, when the wind turns and blows hard north, or the target species just aren’t there, be ready for any situation. With all the Gulfside rock piles and basins, and the Oceanside flats, there are many ways to get the rods bent.
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