Springtime is almost here and that, once again, means the start of 'tarpon season' here in Islamorada. It's a good time of year right now to break apart those old spinning reels and do a little maintenance, spool up some new line, and make sure your gear is in tip-top shape for battling the silver king.
Tarpon are very well known for finding any weak links in your fishing gear game, so it's best not to take any chances. I like to keep all of my spinning reels well-greased, helping to prevent corrosion inside the reel, which is bound to happen in a saltwater environment.
Another thing that I've had to do, more than a few times, is dunk my reels in the water when battling big tarpon to get around bridge pilings and send them on a float through the bridge. This always makes for an exciting catch, but, obviously, can wreak havoc on your gear. Usually, when I'm fishing the bridges, for this reason, I'll use my older trusty BG90s, which aren't super expensive reels, and are fairly easy to find replacement parts for. This way if I lose it, I'm not losing a very fancy expensive reel I'm going to be super upset about. I've found that even when they get totally submerged, you can try to clean them with freshwater on the boat as best you can, and just keep using them to prevent them from sitting and seizing. Then, when you get back to the dock, dunk them in a bucket of freshwater for a minute or so, and spray them down really well with some reel lubricant. I've got reels that are 10 years old and still going strong that have gone swimming like that probably a dozen times.
Another fairly important part about reels is making sure the drags are fairly smooth. Over time, the washers in spinning reels get worn down, and, if it gets too far, they can lock up on you completely (and usually when you are least expecting it, battling that big fish)! I've found, though, that, usually once a season, you can just break them apart and replace the washers and pack a good glob of grease in there and be good to go. You can even send them back to the manufacturers, and sometimes for free, or a small fee, they will redo them all for you if you don't have the time and have some other reels to use in the meantime.
Another important thing to check on your reels is your line. These days many fishermen are choosing spinning reels for tarpon fishing since you can load them up with plenty of braided line. When monofilament was your only choice, you had to use much lighter line which wasn't as forgiving when it rubbed against a bridge, piling, lobster pot, etc. I can fit about 300 yards of 50 lb. braid on my rods (and we all know how strong that stuff is) and then I like to put about 30 feet of 60 lb. mono on top for a wind-on 'shock leader'. However, the braid can get weak over time, which can often go unnoticed. One of the reasons I started noticing it more, was because of the union knot I tie when tying my braid to my monofilament wind-on leader. The FG knot, which I've come to love and have used all the time the last few years, really tests the strength of your braid when you go to cinch it down. This is especially true with the heavier line we use for tarpon fishing, since you have to really pull hard on it to get the braid to bite into the mono and hold securely. I noticed when I'd go to tie it, the braid would just pop, even though it often would look okay, and, for me, that was no good and let me know the braid was getting worn down and needed changing.
We'll be out hunting for the silver king every day before we know it. As of now, in the backcountry, we've still been doing a mix of things. The snook, redfish, drum, and sheepshead fishing has been better when we've had cooler weather (which we haven't had a whole lot of). During the warmer times, I've been out in the Gulf fishing for mackerel, tripletail, cobias, sharks, and goliath grouper. Overall, it's been good fishing, but I can't wait to be hooked up to those tarpon again every day!
Capt. Rick Stanczyk
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