There are thousands of miles of residential canals along South Florida and the Florida Keys. Juvenile tarpon use these protected areas for several years before moving offshore to join the main tarpon migration. On occasion, large adult tarpon will also inhabit these waters year-round, offering unique angler opportunities for water front home owners, kayakers and small boat owners. While not every canal system will have tarpon in it, the ones that do harbor a residential population can offer year-round angling opportunities. Canal tarpon can be notoriously picky, but with these following tips and tricks you’ve got a good chance at hooking up.
You may have a hard time getting local information about which canal systems hold residential tarpon. If that’s the case, it’s best to take a look at a local chart and scout out the deepest canal systems. If a chart is unavailable, keep an eye out for docks with large cabin cruisers and sailboats, as they need deep water for navigation.
A majority of canal tarpon will be in the 5lb to 4olb range, often times these small tarpon can be seen tail slapping or rolling on the surface. A light tackle outfit will be the most enjoyable for casting to these Silver Princes. I’ll usually grab one of my flats spinning outfits for throwing 1/4oz to 1oz jigs. A 7’ medium 12-17lb outfit with a 3000-5000 size reel, 20lb braid and 40lb Fluorocarbon is perfect.
Approach: I’ll have the best success with these picky eaters by throwing a light weight 3.5inch Pro Tail Paddle or 4-inch Skinny on a 1/4oz jig head. Sight casting at rolling fish, then imparting a vertical jigging presentation worked in the mid water column tends to get bit the most often. Just after a fish rolls, make a cast within two feet of the roll. Let the jig sink to about one third the depth of the canal. So if it’s 15 feet deep, I’ll let it sink for a five count, getting down about five feet, then begin my retrieve. Just after I hit my preferred depth, I’ll give my rod tip two quick, sharp ten-inch snaps. This will cause the lure to quickly dart upwards, then with a slightly slack line I’ll allow the jig to sink down two to three feet. I find canal tarpon eat a jig on the fall ninety percent of the time. Repeat this twitch-twitch pause retrieve back to the boat. Repeat the technique at every rolling fish within casting distance. On a good day, I’ll usually hook up about 1 in every 6 perfect casts to a fish.
While not as common, there are certain canal systems that harbor some truly massive tarpon. I’m not sure if they’ve retired from the mating game, or just prefer to lounge in their home waters instead of heading offshore to join the migration. These populations are closely guarded secrets and are usually just stumbled upon while navigating around local water ways.
Approach: These fish have been around for a very long time and have likely seen just about everything thrown at them over the years. They are very difficult to catch, but not impossible. Downsized presentations often get the nod over larger, noisier presentations. So, mid-sized 5.5-inch Pro Tail Paddles and 7-inch Original Eels become the bait of choice. Similar to other tarpon scenarios, a slow and steady surface retrieve is ideal.
Make long casts down the center of deepwater canal systems and begin your retrieve just after the lure lands. Keep you rod tip low and be prepared to set the hook at the slightest bump. Often times these canal fish won’t aggressively attack a lure, but they will lightly pop up and bump it as it goes by. Likewise, a traditional walk-the-dog style retrieve with the 7-inch Original Series rigged on an unweighted swim bait hook is a great topwater option during low light. Keep the color selection simple: bone, black and silver are all good choices.
To maximize your chances of hooking these large canal tarpon, focus your angling efforts around first and last light. The fish should be in a more aggressive feeding mood and less likely to ignore an artificial presentation. If you’re lucky enough to be a waterfront resident with tarpon in your back yard, this would go great with your morning cup of coffee or evening beverage!