Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Tarpon Techniques

On any given day anyone can be a tarpon specialist. Take for instance one day in late September, when a good friend of mine and I went out for a look at the Jetties. The tarpon were home and hungry. We put down our baits and instantly hooked up to a nice 125# tarpon. That’s all it takes, be there when they are hungry. But how do you hook them up and more importantly, keep them on once you do hook one up.

I’ve been fishing tarpon for over twenty years and I didn’t luck up on the techniques on my own. I have to give credit where credit is due. My brother Bryan taught me the ropes who was taught by the great tarpon fisherman and former state record holder (210#), Tom Gibson of Houston Texas. But it was our uncle Jr. Wells that taught him in the first place that got Tom to start fishing with Bryan. Tom has caught more tarpon than all of us combined, and with his track record who can disagree. One thing about Tom is he’s always ready to share his techniques.

The most productive way to hook and land big tarpon in the South Padre Island area is with live bait. Most of those that fish for tarpon use live mullet, depending on the size of "poons" we’re after. But for the 125-pound class fish we like to use about eight inch mullet. We used to use 9/0 tarpon-tuna hooks with these baits, but Tom taught us to use the Japanese Circle hooks. Most of us know them by snapper hooks, or circle hooks. In using the mullet for bait, start the hook in the chin and rotate it out just a little in front of between the eyes. Our catch ratio went up from 1 out of 7 to 5 out of 7 with the circle hook.

I have been taught to wrap the three to six ounce sinker on to the eight foot 300# leader using copper wire about three feet up from the hook. This trick works really great because as the fish jumps the first time he will sling off the weight and he no longer has that advantage to help him shake the hook.

The way to fish these tarpon and hook them is really simple. Put your mullet down to the bottom and raise it up about three feet. Drift it there and wait for the bite. Trick here in using the circle hooks; don’t set the hook in the conventional way. Wait and let the fish swim off with the bait and just tighten up. After that the fish will tighten it up for you. These hooks rigged as shown will turn around the upper lip. The fish will literally chomp down in his initial run and force the hook around his lip. Then it’s just a matter of fighting the fish to the boat and TRYING to get the hook out.

Sometimes it’s easier to cut the hook off and let him dissolve it out himself.

The only technique to fighting the tarpon is to keep the pressure on and to bow down to him the instant he jumps. The reasoning behind this is the tarpon shakes his head so violently that you are trying to keep from breaking the line. The less drag from the eyes of the rod helps with this. It also helps in keeping the line from wrapping around the tip of the rod. When you settle down to a bulldog fight use small pumps instead of long ones so the pressure remains as constant as possible. Long pumps up and then reeling down gives the fish a little breather. So long stokes should be avoided if at all possible.

When you get the fish to the boat be sure he is ready for the gaff by punching him with it and see if he’ll run again. If he doesn’t then drop the gaff in his bottom lip and pull it tight against the boat. He will jump again when this happens. It’s best to have a flying gaff with a rope attached so you can slide your hand up the rope and get away from the head thrashing. Do not use a stick gaff, as he will beat you in the head with it.

After the fight and your ready to release him, hold the gaff and put the boat in gear and pull the fish through the water a little bit to revive it. When he starts to swim a little he’s ready to be let go, drop the gaff out and go get another one.

With these same techniques my brother Bryan and I caught and released 24 tarpon over 100#s one evening using 50# class tackle, which is a great time to fish for the mighty SILVER KING.

Skipper Ray is a freelance writer and fishing guide in South Padre Island, Texas
where he owns and operate Island Outfitters. Call: 956-943-2798 or Email

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