15 Minutes with: Capt. Ross Gallagher
Here’s what we learned…
Location: Southwest Florida
Tides: Either side of slack tide. Often, tarpon will be the most active as the tide slows down and speeds up around slack tide.
Approach: Targeting big fish in a kayak is challenging in it’s own right. Trying to do this at night requires a keen eye for safety, weather and good decisions. It’s essential to wear a life jacket and don proper lighting on your craft before taking off. Sanibel offers several locations with deep water access close to shore, these deep channels will hold large adult tarpon for most of the late spring through early winter. I prefer to fish nights that have a slack tide between 9pm – 11pm. This offers you the opportunity to fish two sides of the tide without having to stay out until dawn. Best places to target these big tarpon are area passes, bridges and inlets.
Rigging Selection: When fishing large unweighted soft baits for top water tarpon, a single hook is preferred. The Hogy® 4/0 or 6/0 Soft Circle Hooks have an excellent hookup ratio for tarpon and allow the entire bait to freely swing in the current. The action of an unrestricted Hogy® Original is irresistible to tarpon. When the tide begins to push hard, a weighted approach is often necessary to stay in the strike zone. The Hogy Barbarian Jig Heads paired with a black or tinker mac 7″ or 9″ Jiggin’ Paddle Swim Baits work great for jigging the mid water column.
Why this bait? The action and profile of Hogy’s Original Series accurately imitates ballyhoo, needlefish, ladyfish and small eels that are a favorite nighttime forage for bridge and channel tarpon.
Colors: Black has become my new favorite for night fishing. It works exceptionally well in well lit and totally dark areas. The black color creates a perfect silhouette that tarpon are tuned into feeding on. If your fishing clear water, baits with a green hue can work really well. I like using the tinker mack or green sexy colors for both top and jigging approaches.
Retrieve: Proper kayak positioning is essential to successful tarpon fishing. The baits must be worked and retrieved naturally with the tide. You’ll need to cast your baits up current and parallel to light lines and bridge pilings. It may take some practice to determine the right spot to cast that allows your bait to drift into the lights just right. Once you find your swing, it won’t be long until a tarpon finds your well presented bait and eats it!
It’s easy to fish the drift while fishing in the kayak. It’s not advised to try and anchor, it could easy become a dangerous situation when a big fish is hooked and the anchor becomes stuck on bottom. I really enjoy the mobility and hands free movement of my Hobie Pro Angler 14. The pedal driven mirage drive allows me to maintain good casting position in the current while accurately casting my bait to rolling fish. Trying to achieve the same effect with a normal kayak in heavy current would quickly become frustrating.
When working the soft baits at night, a slow, teasing retrieve works best. I like to use 2-3 twitches followed by a 3-5 second pause. Then use 1 sharp twitch and a one second pause. Mix up the number of twitches and length of pauses to determined what the fish want. Fast retrieves rarely work well at night, so keep it slow. If nothing seems to work, try dead sticking the bait, by steadily reeling in the slack line as the bait drifts with the current. Do not twitch the rod, the current will gently twitch the bait and give it enough action for finicky tarpon.
Reel: Shimano Sustain FG 10000
Line: 50lb Power Pro Slick
Leader: 80lb mono Leader, Tied line to line via spider hitch to worm knot. Use an offshore loop knot tying your leader to the hook.