The Silver King Rules! 5 Tips for Catching Tarpon in Tampa Bay

tarpon fishing in tampa bayJune and July fishing for big fish in Tampa Bay can be dominated by only one fish that makes its presence in spring and hangs around through early fall…TARPON!!!

The “silver king” showed up in the Anna Maria Island/Longboat Key area very early this year. Usually, the tarpon season in the Tampa Bay or Boca Grande area doesn’t kick off until May, but this year, I started seeing them off Egmont Key and the Sunshine Skyway bridge in February. So tarpon fishing in Tampa Bay began early! The early arrival of fish was probably due to warm spring-like weather that basically ended winter in January.  With no severe cold fronts after January, waters began to warm, bringing small baitfish into the bay by mid-February.  Glass minnows showed up first, and they attracted Spanish mackerel.  Macks love “glassies,” as tarpon do, and along with the Spanish that were migrating northward from the Keys, tarpon moved out of the rivers and showed up in Tampa Bay over some hard bottom at the extreme south end.  Tarpon continued to appear and are here in extreme numbers at times.  Thus far, some of the largest schools have been sighted along the beaches from Longboat Key to Pass-A-Grille.  One school was estimated at about 1,000 fish.  So now that they’re here, how are you gonna catch one?  Here are a few tips to help you be the king of the silver king.

1) Don’t Spook Tarpon!
With schools this big, the word gets out quickly, and unless anglers approach in the stealth mode, these fish will be put down and will rarely eat.  Perfect casts with all the “right” baits make no difference once the fish have been spooked.

2) Crabs and Shrimp – Your Best Bait Bet for Tarpon
Some of the best action for tarpon will be around the new and full moons (check out Cannons’ new tide chart for updates on this).  And what bait can you use to get them? Tarpon will eat crabs and shrimp that are flushed out of the bay by strong currents.  The outgoing tide late in the day is the hardest running current, and this is when tarpon feed best.  Crabs and shrimp can’t swim against the currents, so they go with the flow and are eaten by tarpon that lay head into the tide waiting for them.  On the incoming tides, expect tarpon to feed more heavily on threadfin herring.  Threadfin can be netted with a bait cast net.  Small blue crabs are favored on the outgoing tide.

3) Artificial Lures Can Work for Tarpon Too
Artificial lures will attract tarpon.  Some of my favorites are the DOA Trolling model Baitbuster, the MirrOlure Catch 2000, 65 MRFGO MirrOlure, DOA TerrorEyz, DOA Shrimp, and the DOA Softshell Crab.

4) Pay Attention to their Form
Finding tarpon isn’t that difficult if you know where they are, but as a novice, you can bet that you’ll find tarpon running the beaches for the next month or so from Venice north in 5 to 20-feet of water.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve observed tarpon moving north in about 10-feet of water.  You’ll see fish that look like they are making a chain at times, swimming in circles nose to tail of the fish in front of them.  This activity is mostly from pre-spawn fish around full moon or new moon phases.  Fish that you see moving in a straight line quickly in a rolling motion on the surface are “grey-hounding” fish, or fish that are on a mission and are normally not interested in eating.  At times, usually early in the day, you’ll find tarpon “laid up” on the surface, not moving much at all.  These fish will usually eat if they are not spooked.

5) Approach Tarpon Appropriately
If given the choice of how to approach these fish, if you can set up to have the wind make your boat drift to the fish, this is quietest method and preferred, but not always feasible.  Poling with a push pole is the preferred method of approach, along with a quiet trolling motor used on the lowest speed setting.  Vibrations from a trolling motor with a bad propeller that is out of balance, however, can put these fish down and they will not eat.  Running an outboard motor to chase down fish or approach them within casting range is never an acceptable way to approach tarpon.  These fish will rarely eat when outboard motors are running.  A fairly ‘safe’ distance to shut down the big motor without running the risk of spooking tarpon is about a quarter mile or more.
Anna Maria and Longboat Key are prime areas for tarpon from May through July.  Ultra clear water off the beaches make for some of the best sight fishing for tarpon in the world. We have world-class fish here, with some tipping the scales at over 200-pounds.  A day on the water tarpon fishing usually begins in the pre-dawn hours, and ends about lunch time.  But around new and full moon weeks, you can expect a good bite near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge or off the tip of Egmont Key by the Lighthouse late in the afternoon where the outgoing tide blasts water out of the mouth of Tampa Bay.  These two hot spots are heralded by many a tournament angler who pay homage to tarpon, where the “silver king” truly rules the roost.

Have you had any luck catching tarpon this year? Do you have any great pictures from your tarpon expeditions? If so, put them up on our Facebook page at Cannons Marina >

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About the author: I was born a commercial fisherman’s daughter in Cortez, an old fishing village off the west coast of Florida where you can still experience “Old Florida” and get a really good grouper sandwich. I went to school and became an anesthetist, after privileged years of practice, I jumped ship to work in the family business – Cannons Marina. I love my job and the view. I am crazy about my dog Gnarly. Being out on the water is magical. I still get giddy every time I see a dolphin. Often I brag that I had the opportunity to swim alongside a humpback whale – it was freaky and pretty amazing. My life is no doubt boating, but I also love paddle-boarding cooking and travel.

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