Many have heard of the biblical tarpon fishing that occurs on a Palolo worm hatch in the Lower Florida Keys. Timed around the full moon cycle in May and sometimes June, specific conditions trigger a common sea worm to begin a unique spawning behavior en masse. The Palolo worm will break off half of its body, releasing its tail section into the current; this tail section contains the reproductive cells for the organism. Once released, the tails swim toward the surface and drift together on the tide. These tens of thousands of small wriggling worms attract a variety of species and trigger a feeding frenzy of epic proportions.
Tarpon are a key predator on during this event, staging up by the thousands mere hours before the event begins. Once the tails are released, tarpon can be seen drunkenly slurping worms from the surface along any deepwater canal, cut or bridge system. It’s truly a sight to behold, as the entire body of water erupts into a feeding frenzy.
Catching tarpon during a hatch can range from extremely easy to downright infuriatingly difficult. Many old-time guides have found “secret” methods for imitating these tiny worms and getting their fair share of tarpon in the air.
Worm Imitator: Hogy has released a Palolo Worm imitator, based on a design from a popular tackle shop in Marathon Key. This small 5” long, yarn-thin soft bait closely imitates the wriggling action and profile of a drifting Palolo worm. Due to its light weight and delicate body shape, a casting egg is often used for additional casting weight.
These casting eggs are partially filled with water to add weight, yet retain enough buoyancy to float on the surface. A short 4-foot section of light fluorocarbon leader is attached to the egg and then to a small, stout hook, which is affixed to the worm imitator.
Presentation: You will not need to impart any action to your Palolo worm once it’s cast into the current. Using your fingertips, slowly pay out slack line, just fast enough to allow the bait to drift naturally with the current. The bite can be very delicate when a tarpon eats the worm, so pay attention to any slight ticks on the line during the drift, but on occasion, a tarpon will attack the worm imitator with a large surface explosion just to keep things interesting. After the strike, manually close the reel’s bail and quickly pickup any slack. Allow the fish to come tight on the hook and begin it’s run before setting the hook. With these small, light wire hooks, the hooks are nearly always set during the first few moments of a strike.
The entire worm hatch event may only last for a few hours, generally through an entire outgoing tide cycle and just as quickly as the action began, things return to normal as if the event never happened in the first place.