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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Tarpon take main stage in Tampa Bay

It's my favorite time of year: tarpon time. It's time for them to start invading the passes, beaches, bridges and flats throughout Tampa Bay. Starting in mid-April, we begin to see tarpon move into Tampa Bay — and they typically stay around the area throughout the summer, with the peak months being May and June. They're one of the toughest species to target and they will test both your angling skills and patience. Typically, I use live bait for tarpon this time of year, and one of my favorites is the elusive Pass Crab. You can catch these little critters on a strong outgoing tide — most locals call this the crab flush — by simply scooping them up with a dip net. There are other great baits as well, and having a little bit of each is important. Some days they might only want to eat crabs and other days Threadfin Herring will be the preferred bait.
When fishing for tarpon, I typically use heavy spinning gear, and a 50-pound-class 8-foot spinning rod matched with a 5000 series reel will make for the right size gear. When choosing a rod and reel for tarpon it is imperative to buy quality tackle. Your tackle will be put to the test. As of late, the Sunshine Skyway has been a productive area for finding tarpon. There are many techniques that work, and they vary from day to day. One of my favorites is to cut chum bait out to draw the fish to you. Fishing on the beaches at first light is also a great way to catch tarpon. You will start to see fish slowly rolling up and down the beaches as they look for schools of baitfish coming through. I really like to target tarpon this way. There is nothing better than site-casting at a school of silver king. Having a tower on your boat will help you locate the schools from a distance. Another great tool to use when fishing along the beaches is a trolling motor to make for a stealthy approach once you edge close to the school of fish. The technique is usually best employed early in the morning, before the boat traffic gets out. Planning your trips around the tides is an important part of tarpon fishing. I like to fish around the new moon, as the stronger tides create a great afternoon crab flush. And when the pass crabs start to flush through the pass, tarpon are not far behind. Tight lines!

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 captjasonp@aol.com.

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