Tarpon

by Capt. Mike Bartlett

Tarpon

Here we are again--the busiest and craziest part of the year for us on the flats! The next several weeks are an awesome time to be fishing here in the Florida Keys as thousands of tarpon have descended upon us to congregate in the deep passes and harbors of the island chain. Around the time of the full and new moon in late May and early June, these tarpon will make more tarpon and feed on the tiny palolo worms that will emerge from the rocky bottoms.

It’s the height of the spring tarpon migration and long days are in store for many of us who guide on the flats. I will be awake way before sunrise, leaving the dock early enough to be on the water, fishing at first light. From there, we will fish all day, with hopefully a couple hours’ break to sit down and eat some food, before getting back at it for a late evening session. The long days in the sun and wind and lack of sleep are pretty brutal on the body and mind, but worth it when everything goes to plan and the days are successful.

When conditions are ideal, the early morning tarpon fishing is about the easiest fishing we will have. Slicked out, flat, calm mornings will have tarpon lazily rolling, breaking the water’s surface for a gulp of air or feeding on any baitfish that are present. This is when tarpon are most susceptible to being caught. A fly or lure placed somewhere near and ahead of a rolling tarpon will get eaten. Then, the quiet serenity of the calm, early morning hour will be shattered by the giant slab of silver crashing back down onto the water, and some very pumped up anglers!

Flat, calm, early mornings during the low-light hours are my favorite time of day. It’s a period of time to watch nature come to life. As the sun breaks the horizon, all the different bird species begin their daily hunt for food, flying from their roosts on the mangrove islands to the nearby flats. This is also when the ‘hatches’ occur, and if you’re lucky enough to be on the water when the right conditions line up, you are in for a spectacular time. Unfortunately, this period of the day is short-lived. I always wish it would last a bit longer, as it is a very peaceful and soothing time.

The middle of the day is spent setting up on the well-established migratory routes, waiting for schools of tarpon to cruise by. A lot of tarpon will swim by the boat, and shots will be plentiful, but it’s dramatically different from the morning feed. Since these fish are in travel mode, it’s tougher to get a bite. Precision casting is required, along with cooperative fish. If the morning session went really well, then this is a good time to go fish for bonefish and permit. Bonefishing is one of my favorite things to do during tarpon season. It’s a nice break from hanging around the Oceanside flats with everyone else waiting for tarpon, especially on windy days. And if bonefishing is slow or conditions aren’t great, we can always go back to hunt for tarpon.

The other really cool event that occurs this time of year is the palolo worm hatch. The worm hatch is a main attraction during tarpon season, occurring for only a few days in the late evening around the full and new moon. The worm hatch is the exact opposite of the early morning peacefulness. The hustle and bustle of the Keys boating life is all around. But, that doesn’t matter to the hordes of tarpon who only care about one thing--and that is eating worms. It’s a chaotic, adrenaline-pumping time. Tarpon are all around cruising the surface slurping worms, often right next to the boat. Targets seem endless; you cast to one fish and several others appear in range--it’s maddening! Then, it ends. Just like that. Where there were several hundred tarpon feeding on worms, they are gone and it’s time to go home.

There’s no doubt this time of year will keep you busy, and well entertained on the flats! Go out and enjoy it!




Capt. Mike Bartlett
Capt. Mike Bartlett

Author

Capt. Mike Bartlett runs shallow water sight fishing charters for tarpon, bonefish, permit, barracudas and sharks in Key West. Reach him at 305-797-2452 or on the web at www.keywestflats.net



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