We spent 15 minutes on the phone with Capt. Ross Gallagher, sales director at Hogy Lure Company, to discuss light tackle tarpon tips and techniques for fishing inland Florida rivers, bridges, canals and channels. Here's what we learned...
Location: Inland Florida rivers, bridges, canals and channels.
Tides: Like all tarpon fishing scenarios, a moving tide is generally needed to initiate a strong feeding pattern. It’s common to see fish rolling and splashing during a slack tide, but the bite may be difficult to nonexistent. The same areas should have 1-2 hour windows of active feeding near the start of an incoming or outgoing tide.
Approach: Locating concentrations of juvenile tarpon can seem impossible if you don’t know where to start looking. It may be hard to dig up local knowledge, as many anglers are tight lipped about the best tarpon spots. Spending some time on the water at first light offers the best window to witness surface rolling fish. Begin your search along river bridges, entrances to major deep water canal systems and deep water channels. The presence of bait fish is always helpful in holding groups of fish. Once you’ve located areas that are holding tarpon, chances are, they will be in the same locations year after year at the same time. It’s certainly worth the effort and time looking for these spots.
Rigging Selection: For a mid-water presentation the Hogy 6/0 Barbarian Series Jig Heads are a great light tackle option for tarpon in the 15lbs – 60lb class. The jigs are designed for light tackle applications and the needle sharp point offers high hookup ratios. For topwater presentations, I prefer to use a Soft Circle Hook.
Bait Selection: Hogy 7inch HDUV Eel Tails are designed to interface perfectly with the inshore Barbarian Jig Heads. The 7inch Original is my preferred soft bait for topwater application. Both baits carry a similar profile and mimic the same forage.
Why this bait? I find that the 7inch HDUV Jiggin' Eels mimic the common forage found around rivers, channels and canals, finger mullet and small ladyfish. It’s smaller profile is a modest meal for medium sized fish, but he heavier weight of the jig allows for long distance casting which can be an advantage for spooky fish. The 7inch Original Series are excellent for imitating the same forage, but used in a surface, topwater presentation.
Colors: I’ve had the best luck catching tarpon on Black, Bone or Silver colors when fishing the tannin stained waters common in coastal river estuaries.
Retrieve: Both baits are fishing in a similar fashion. Tarpon in general like to track a bait for several feet before deciding to eat it. In most scenarios, a steady, straight retrieve can work very well. This subtle presentation works excellent on greasy calm days. If there is a bit of wind or surface chop, a slightly aggressive retrieve can work very well too.
It’s very important to follow the fundamentals of proper tarpon presentation for success. These following tips are crucial to hooking up on pressured fish. Tarpon become very finicky and temperamental during periods of high fishing pressures. During these times, getting a bite can be difficult on lures, live and dead baits. Following these instructions greatly increases your odds of connecting with the Silver King.
TOP 6 TIPS FOR LIGHT TACKLE TARPON
- SLOW AND STEADY APPROACH: Never plow towards a school of fish with your outboard. It will quickly push down the school and they will quit biting. Using a trolling motor is a much more effective and subtle presentation.
- DON’T JERK THE THROTTLE: If you need to use an outboard, idle towards the fish without changing your RPM’s as you close in. Changing throttle speed can quickly and push down the school.
- ANGLE IS EVERYTHING: Wait to cast towards the school until you are able to lead the fish and make a cast between 60-90 degrees across the school. Tarpon will rarely attack a lure casted directly at them, or retrieved through them. Patiently waiting for a proper cast will vastly increase your odds of success.
- LIGHT LEADERS: Use a long leader and drop down to 40lb Fluorocarbon. You’ll need to retie after each fish, but there can be a very noticeable bite difference between using 40lb and heavier leaders. The long length of the Barbarian Jig Head or corner hookups with Soft Circle Hooks will help protect your leader from chafe.
- LONG DISTANCE CASTING: This tip goes with the slow approach. With the proper tackle, it’s possible to launch the lure upwards of 50 yards. Staying a maximum distance away from the school with keep them in a happier mood longer.
- PLAN YOUR DRIFT: Use the wind/tide toward your advantage. Get well ahead of a moving school and anticipate the direction of your drift to make a proper approach. Power down the outboard and keep deck noise to a minimum.
Rod: Sewell Custom 7’6″ Medium Heavy Spinning
Reel: Shimano Sustain 5000
Line: 20lb Power Pro Slick
Leader: 40lb Fluorocarbon is adequate for fish in the 20lb – 60lb, although you will probably need to trim the chaffed section after each fish.