Big tarpon are stealing the spotlight
May is here and fishing has been awesome. On any given day you can catch just about any species that roams the bay right now, but the silver king has to be on the top of most anglers' lists. Every year beginning in late April, we start to see tarpon move into Tampa Bay as they get ready for their spawn. They can be one of the area's most difficult fish to target, because they're very picky and always on the move. Some of the good areas that hold tarpon year after year and produce fish just about every day are Egmont Key, the gulf beaches and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which is closest to us. Tarpon diets change from day to day, but lately, simply cast-netting a bunch of threadfin herring about the size of your hand has been the bait of choice. Since threadfins are typically bigger, I have a 12-foot, 1 1/4-inch mesh Calusa cast net to make the bait catching a bit faster.You can also opt for a sabiki rig if you don't know how to throw a cast net. Fishing around the better tides of the month will improve your chances of catching fish. I typically like the week of the new moon. Since tarpon can weigh 50 to 200 pounds I recommend using heavy spinning gear with a 20- to 50-pound class rod. It's important when choosing your rod and reel combo to buy a good one. Tarpon are very strong fish and you'll be putting your gear through extreme conditions. Braided line is also a must when tarpon fishing. This will give you the strength to haul in that 200-pound fish but also let you make long casts when stalking a pod of fish on the beach. I have most reels spooled up with Fins 65-pound Windtamer braided line. Match this with a five-foot, 60-pound Ohero Fluorocarbon leader and a 5/0 Daiichi wide circle hook for a rig that will have you ready for a good tarpon battle. You can expect great tarpon fishing all the way through the summer but the peak will be during the next two months. As we get to the latter part of the summer, look for South Shore waters to play host to some excellent tarpon when they make their way up the bay and roam around wrecks, shoals and reefs. There is no easy way to catch the mighty silver kings. You just have to put your time in. Tarpon have no food value so although you can purchase a tag to keep a fish, there is really no reason to do so. Also, after you catch a fish, make sure you revive it for an extended time as they fight themselves to near death. This can be done by gently dragging the fish alongside the boat with the engine in gear to run water through their gills. Remember — we have to protect our fish today so the next generation can catch them tomorrow. Jason Prieto is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 727-9890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.