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Tarpon Season Etiquette

Boat traffic is inevitable when fishing passes or other channels. Fellow anglers, one hopes, will give you some breathing room.


When the tarpon are migrating through the Keys and up both of Florida's coasts, anglers can't get enough of the hard-fighting, acrobatic, prehistoric fish. The passion anglers have for the species is incredible, but it seems that etiquette is often forgotten when chasing tarpon.

Speaking with three guides who fish almost every day during tarpon season, I picked up a few things anglers can do to make for a better fishing experience for all. Fishing the passes throughout the west coast of Florida is very popular among tarpon fishermen. These deepwater channels that connect the inshore waters to the ocean are a great area for tarpon to congregate, with plenty of forage flushing out from the bays to feed on.

Captain Jay Withers of Silver Lining Charters (captjay.com) has been fishing Boca Grande Pass and surrounding areas for 14 years and has seen his fair share of tarpon action. Drift fishing is the most popular tactic in Boca Grande, covering a lot of water. Once making your drift, and looking to set back up for another, swing wide, going around the group of boats and stage upcurrent of them. Avoid going through the middle of the “pack.”

“A big, traditional Boca Grande boat will drift a lot slower than an 18-foot flats boat,” said Withers. This is something to consider. You want to leave plenty of room when drifting upcurrent of a boat that drifts slower than yours. If not, you will find yourself on their stern, potentially getting in their lines and having a problem that could've been avoided.

Observing how people fish the pass can really help. “Sit and watch for 15 minutes if you're not familiar,” said Withers. This allows you to see how the pack of boats is drifting and how everybody is set up. Running directly into the pack of boats and setting up shop is frowned upon and most of the time won't get you a bite.

These fish don't hang in the passes forever, though, often flushing out and continuing their migration along the coast. Chances are you won't be the only one looking for fish when targeting these pods on the beach. Common courtesy goes a long way.

Captain Jason Stock of JM Snooky Charters (jmsnookykayakcharters.com) suggested a few tips to help catch more fish and not be “that guy,” when beach tarpon fishing. Always give the boat that was on the school first the priority. Don't run in on someone casting and try to line yourself up. Instead, stay off of them and observe what the school of fish is doing. What direction are they heading? Are they stay- ing on the surface? Are they hanging low? Often times doing this, the first boat will hook up, then the school is yours for the taking.

Position yourself where you think they will be heading, cut the motor and wait for your shot. “A lot of times people won't pay attention to what the fish are doing and will cast behind them, and wonder why they didn't hook up,” says Stock. If you come up on a pod getting worked by four boats already, chances are these fish aren't happy and you're better off continuing down the beach looking for a fresh school.

Once hooked up, be sure to put some pressure on the fish, at least for the first few minutes. Doing this will pull the fish out of the school, allowing other anglers an opportunity at hooking up.

Captain Jamie Connell of Flying Fish Charters (flyingfishkw.com) out of Key West fishes for tarpon along the oceanside and backcountry flats a good bit of the year.

Although obvious, when someone is staked out along an edge or flat, give them room. “I like to give at least 100 yards,” says Connell. Running by another boat within close proximity may disrupt the pattern of fish working their way and ultimately ruin their shot. How would you like it if someone did that to you? Albeit there are times when this is unavoidable, such as when fishing an edge or a tight navigation channel. If this is the case, come down off plane and idle by.

Common courtesy on the water can go a long way. We are all out to accomplish the same goal—catch more fish and have fun. FS

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