Its July in Northeast Florida and man is it ever hot out! Water temperatures are sitting in the high 80's and we're sweating in the shade! There is a silver lining though, the Tarpon bite is absolutely epic! The numbers of Tarpon in Mayport Inlet and surrounding areas are among the highest I've seen in years.
Tarpon are being caught in a wide number of areas. The Creeks, in particular, Clapboard and Saw Pit, as well as the Pogey pods on the beach, and of course, Mayport Inlet. Nassau Sound and Vilano are also hot spots right now.
If you're ever unsure where to look for Tarpon, Get out at first light, way before the Summer heat kicks on and scout areas for rolling Tarpon. They're hard to miss with their chrome colored backs and sides flashing as they roll across the surface. Early morning as well as late day, when the sun gets low in the western sky, are always your best bet when searching for the illusive Silver King. Once the water surface heats up, generally by 11am or so, Tarpon will head for the bottom to cool off. This is why when you're unsure where to look for them, you do so at cooler hours. Once you figure out their patterns, you can target them in areas whether you see them rolling or not. During the day, I'll target them even though I may not see them on the surface. It's all about confidence.
Your bottom machine takes over when the Tarpon head deeper. They tend to run in small clumps of 2 to 4 fish. Sometimes the groups are bigger, often times they aren't. Those small groups have an unmistakable look to them on the bottom machine. They'll often be suspended 5 to 10 feet off the bottom and appear as a large solid mark. Not all machines display the same way, but, once you understand what you're looking at, you'll get a boost in confidence.
There is no one way to target Tarpon! I know half a dozen other Tarpon anglers in Jacksonville and most of us fish a method completely different from one another. Creek anglers tend to stick with fishing floats baited with live bait, or a flat lined live bait. In shallower water, these are easily the best methods as they put the bait where Tarpon will always see it. The other benefit is that you'll cover more water. By opening the bail, or free spooling conventional reels, you can let the bait drift with the current. This allows you to cover more area as well as make the live bait appear more natural and unhindered.
Inlet Tarpon on the other hand, are a bit different. I tend to target them on the bottom in the Inlet. Even if I can clearly see them on the surface. I will occasionally flat line a single bait on the surface depending on the speed of the current. If it's ripping, Ill only fish the bottom.
Tarpon, as well as other saltwater fish, will sit behind tide breaks in heavy current. They like to sit idle behind any structure that has fast moving water flowing over it, or even to the side of it. Tarpon in particular have eyes that sit in a position high on top of their heads. They're literally designed to attack bait from underneath. They will sit on the low side of any drop-off and watch for bait to pass overhead. The Big Jetties in Mayport are littered with rocky depth changes that hold big numbers of Tarpon. I simply place my baits on the bottom around the back side of these obstacles and wait for one to get hammered. Simple as that.
Depending upon how many clients I have on board, Ill either run with a 2 rod spread or a 4 rod spread. A hookup can be and usually is chaotic. I'll assign everyone on board a job going into our day. If I have 4 passengers, 2 will be responsible for bringing up the other rods once a rig hooks up. 1 person will be assigned the job of throwing out the anchor ball(Anchor Balls float the anchor rope allowing us to get off anchor and chase the fish down. We'll retrieve the anchor after the battle). This is extremely important, especially when we're hooked into larger Tarpon in excess of 150 pounds. These guys will spool a 10k series spinning reel in a matter of a minute and we will have to chase it down with the boat quickly. Doing so requires organization as well as a quick reaction. 10 seconds can be the difference between landing a world class fish and getting spooled.
Give Tarpon fishing a shot. It's hard to keep them buttoned up but, once you get that first one to the boat, I guarantee it wont be your last! If I had to pick a single fish species to call my favorite, The Silver King would always be it.
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