Are tarpon on your bucket list?
So many anglers think of tarpon as an exotic species in exotic lands. But they're not. These babies are right here in our own backyards and all you need is a little flats boat, pontoon or even a kayak. Got your interest? I hope so. Tarpon abound in our waters and are common from the flats off Apollo Beach south to Simmons Park, around Bahia Beach Reef and farther south to Port Manatee. My experience is most local anglers downplay their skills and only dream of a chance to fight one. Stop dreaming and start acting. You can do it.First thing is resolve to get out early or fish late. Tarpon are most active at those times. For bait, figure out how to get large shrimp, scaled sardines, threadfins or some pass crabs. Some anglers use artificial baits and even flies successfully. Unless you have lots of experience, use live bait. It works and usually works best. Add a float to your anchor line and set up where you think tarpon might be. Start chumming and just freeline your baits in that chum line. I like larger circle hooks and drags that can be adjusted on the heavy side. Be patient as fishing for these fish can include lots of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer pandemonium. If you get a hit, hang on and don't be afraid to put some pressure on that hook. Toss your anchor line overboard with the float attached. I don't want to hear "oops" when you do it. The float keeps the anchor line on top for you to retrieve later. It's real tough to just sit in an anchored boat because tarpon don't take kindly to being hooked. All that skyrocketing into the air and running will quickly tear out all your line. Move the boat and follow the fish. Don't just hang on with the rod straight up. Keep moving the rod side to side as the fish moves. That turns its' head and tires the fish out. Try not to let him gulp air on the surface. The secret is to keep that fish moving until it tires. Taking pictures can be tough. You are not allowed to remove tarpon from the water unless you have a tag. Put on a glove and hold them by the lower jaw. Take the picture and then revive it for a safe release. For more helpful information, check out an article called "How to Catch Tarpon the Easy Way" at www.theonlinefisherman.com. This is your time to get a tarpon. So go and. Catch 'em up. Larry Malinoski, aka the FishHawk, is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 469-7251 or [email protected]