Location: Key West, Florida
Capt. Brian is located out of Stock Island at Ocean’s Edge Marina, which is one of the many islands located in Florida’s Key West region. During the months of April through June, with May being the predominant month, Key West’s flats, back country and beaches are littered with both resident and migrating Tarpon. Most often, the resident fish will congregate in the back country channels and pockets while the migratory fish make their way down the beaches, with about half of the migratory population expanding up the Atlantic coast up to Virginia while the other half go towards the west and up the Gulf coast.
Capt. Brian described the beaches as being similar to “travel lanes,” with groups of migratory fish traveling from Point A (the Caribbean) to Point B (up the coast), with the whole South Side of Key West acting as a quick stop over. Because these “travel lanes” are so predictable, it’s common to simply sit in one spot and wait for them to come through or go to where you might find a specific concentration.
Tides: Like most fishing grounds, certain areas work better on certain times but the tide in Key West is not all that important during the Tarpon migration. Tide movement is great but it’s not as important on the beach, especially since the Tarpon are not actively feeding. The lure acts as an opportunity for them to grab a snack on their way through.
Approach: Simply, just look for them. Tarpon are unique in the way that they come to the surface, kind of like dolphins, according to Capt. Brian. You’ll be sitting in a specific area near the beach looking for signs and they’ll just pop up, showing you where they’re at. Thankfully, they’re slow enough that you can easily get yourself in front of them. Using a push pole on a skiff improves your sneakiness and reduces the noise of an engine when you’re approaching these fish. The less pressure you put on them, the better your chances are.
“They’re smart fish,” said Capt. Brian. “There’s three feet of less of crystal clear water and they can see you just like you can see them.”
He advises to stay quiet and sneaky while they’re moving across the sandy, light bottom.
Rigging/Lure Selection: 7-inch Hogy Original rigged on a weightless hook so it doesn’t sink too much.
Why This Bait? Tarpon eat up so as long as you cover the top half of the water column, you’re in good shape. But Capt. Brian didn’t come up with this technique and choose this lure on his own. Like all good anglers and guides, sharing the tricks of the trade is important in making sure clients and customers have as good of a time as possible.
“Someone showed it to me and it works,” said Capt. Brian. “It’s one of those things if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
He noted that when he used to use hard baits and treble hooks, the tarpon can manage to leverage the hooks against each other, resulting in the loss of a fish. The single hook jig end helps them stay more connected and the Hogy Original casts out quite a ways when blind casting and can cover a lot of water easily when fan casting an area.
Colors: Black, Bone or Bubblegum
Retrieve: You can either blind cast or sight cast with these fish but almost always, you want a steady retrieve at a medium speed. A lot of times you’ll see a flash before you feel the fish. Capt. Brian always tells his clients to set the hook if you see a flash or reel until it stops. Once it stops, hang on. There are times when you might throw it out, let it sink and twitch it a little bit but most always, it’s a steady retrieve with a medium speed.
Rod: 8’ Falcon Coastal Clear SWS-8H Spinning Rod
Reel: Daiwa SALTIST 4500 Saltist Spinning reel
Line: 20 lbJ-BRAID x8 Daiwa Braid
Leader: 10-feet, 40lb Seaguar Blue Label Fluorocarbon
Connection: FG Knot for line to leader connection