The Early Season Tarpon Tease

by Capt. Grif Helwig

The Early Season Tarpon Tease

It happens every year. The anticipation of the coming of spring excites and frustrates anglers from all over the world. Here in the Keys, we are lucky to have beautiful, mild winters. But, as spring approaches, early season tarpon tease us with their presence. 

Late February and early March have the potential for some great days fishing for the tarpon that just had to migrate through while the water is still a little chilly. When I see a few days of seasonably warm weather approaching, I head to the backcountry channels and basins in hopes of finding a few fish rolling. 

As soon as the good weather gets here, there is always some bad weather right behind it. It is usually out of the north and usually a lot colder. Then, the water temperature drops and the fish go “bye-bye” until another warming trend arrives. 

Bad weather gives us time to get prepared for the onslaught of big tarpon that are slowly marching our way. I use this time to make sure that I have a season’s worth of tarpon flies ready to go. 

These early spring weather windows keep us going until the bulk of the fish arrive in April and May. Well, April is finally here, and it’s time to get busy! The tarpon should be holding and rolling in backcountry and oceanside channels. 

For the live baiters, a well-placed pinfish trap is a must. Put a few traps out in the grass where there is some tidal flow. If you can get it out there in the morning, baited with a block of chum, it will be loaded by the afternoon or next morning. Drifting baits through a school is a simple way to get a bite. I use relatively small circle hooks and light leaders to help get more bites. You may lose a few fish due to abrasion, but the initial jump and first run are the best part of tarpon fishing. 

I know the desire many have to want to land one of these beasts is huge. But, the fact remains that they are delicate fish and wear out after a long fight. Tarpon are very susceptible to sharks when they are tired from a fight. They must be completely revived before release. Hold the fish next to the boat and bump the boat into gear. Once the fish starts to kick on its own, it should swim away just fine. I suggest that if you are in a good bite, land one fish and carefully get a picture with it in the water. After that, fight subsequent fish through the jumps and runs. Once the fish goes “down and dirty”, tighten the drag and break him off. This way, the angler gets the excitement of the fight and the tarpon swims away strong and healthy. 

Most guides agree that this year will be a difficult one for keeping tarpon away from the sharks. This winter we have seen large numbers of bull sharks on the flats, basins and marinas. So, please do your best this year to help them from becoming dinner. I should mention that doing this can protect you as well. I have had sharks come up and eat a fish as its being released. It is scary and potentially very dangerous. So be vigilant when you do land one and stay safe! 

FishMonster Magazine- Capt. Grif HelwigMy favorite way to fish for tarpon is with lures and flies. A go-to bait for the spinning rods is the Hogy worm in various colors. Most popular are white, black and pink. I don’t know why, or really care why, they love these lures so much. The fact is, that a slow rolled worm in the morning near a school of happy fish will get eaten. I rig mine with a circle hook. The hook-up ratio isn’t as high, but we get some beautiful bites on these things.

My fly box is pretty simple as well. I keep a few staples in there that I am confident in. There are always purple and black, and chartreuse bunny and fox fur flies. In the morning, a purple fly cast on an intermediate clear tip, and slowly stripped back, will get results. Also, always have a lot of palolo worm flies in the box. I use these all through the season, not just during a worm hatch. Other than that, I keep a few different small feather bug flies in a few different colors.

Tarpon season is here! Have a blast, be safe, and be nice to our fish and all others fishing near you.




Capt. Grif Helwig
Capt. Grif Helwig

Author

Fish the backcountry flats and basins with Captain Grif on his 16 ft Maverick skiff or 20 ft Hewes light tackle boats. A Florida native, Grif will guide anglers of all ages and skill levels on fly and spin tackle. Call 904-699-2315 or visit kwfishcharters.com



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