Tarpon Fishing Methods in Boca Grande Pass

Read detailed descriptions of the two predominant tarpon fishing methods researchers observed in Boca Grande Pass during the catch-and-release mortality study from 2002 to 2004.

Live-Bait Fishing Method

Anglers fished off the stern of large inboard vessels, using 6- to 8-foot rods with roller or ceramic guides and 3/0 to 4/0 Penn™ or equivalent conventional reels. Anglers typically drifted boats through the pass to catch tarpon, though some individuals used the boat engines to actively search for and stay above tarpon schools. Reels were generally wound with braided 50- to 100-pound test Dacron line, which was attached to 5/0 swivels. Leaders were long (11-foot average) and made of heavy 100- to 130-pound test monofilament or wire, and tied to forged 4/0, 5/0, 6/0 or 7/0 “J” hooks. The lead sinkers (commonly 6 to 8 ounces) were threaded onto a piece of copper wire that had one end secured tightly to the bottom eye of the swivel and the other wrapped loosely around the leader so the lead weight would break away when angling tarpon.  Boat captains immediately drove the vessel forward to assist anglers in setting the hook. Commonly used live baits included squirrel fish (Diplectrum formosum), blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), pass crabs (Portunus gibbesi) or shrimp (Penaeus spp.). Anglers hooked squirrel fish between the head and dorsal fin, crabs through the pointed tip of the carapace (shell) and shrimp just in front of the dark spot in the head. Live-bait charters fished one or two anglers from the stern for three or four hours.

Artificial Breakaway Jig Fishing Method

Anglers fished with 6- to 8-foot rods with bait-casting or spinning reels and fought hooked tarpon from the bow of smaller and more maneuverable outboard vessels. They used boat engines to actively search for and stay above the fish or to set up just in front of approaching schools of tarpon. Reels were typically wound with 40- or 50-pound test monofilament line attached to short (3-foot average) monofilament leaders of 80- or 100-pound test. Four- to 6-ounce lead jig heads and plastic shad tails of various color patterns and sizes were attached to circle hooks or “J” hooks (5/0, 6/0, 7/0, 8/0 or 9/0 sizes) via small cable ties designed to break away when angling a tarpon. The artificial breakaway jig charters fished one to five anglers for six to eight hours.

At times, depending on tide, current and moon, anglers used an alternative fishing method – free-lined live crabs at the surface using spinning gear.

View representative examples of fishing gear used and observed in Boca Grande Pass during the catch-and-release mortality study in the Breakaway Gear Used in Boca Grande Pass photo gallery.

 

A comparative table of the two predominant tarpon fishing methods used in Boca Grande Pass, as observed during the catch-and-release mortality study from 2002 to 2004.

  Traditional Live Bait Fishing Artificial Breakaway Jig Fishing
Vessel Inboards Outboards
Fighting location  Stem  Bow 
Rods  6- to 8-foot  6- to 8-foot 
Reels  3/0 or 4/0 Penn™ (or equivalent conventional) reels Bait-casting or spinning reels 
Lines  50- to 100-pound test braid (Dacron, Fireline, etc.)
Typically 80-pound test braid 
40- or 50-pound test monofilament
Spinning reels may have been spooled with braid 
Swivels  5/0  Rarely used 
Sinkers  6 to 8 ounces, attached with copper wire secured tightly to the bottom eye of the swivel  None, jig head provided lead weight 
Leaders  100- to 135-pound test monofilament
#6, #7 or #9 Wire 
Long in length (11 foot average) 
80- or 100-pound test monofilament
Fluorocarbon
Short in length (3-foot average) 
Hooks  Forged "J" hooks
Sizes: 4/0, 5/0, 6/0 or 7/0 
Circle hooks or "J" hooks
Sizes: 5/0, 6/0, 7/0, 8/0 or 9/0 
Hook set  By boat  By reel 
Baits  Squirrel fish (Diplectrum formosum)
Blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus)
Pass crabs (Portunus gibbesi)
Shrimp (Penaeus spp.) 
4- to 6-ounce lead jig heads
Plastic shad tails (various color patterns and sizes)
Attached to base of hook 
Breakaway  Tail of copper wire wrapped loosely around the leader so the sinker would break away when angling a tarpon  Small cable tie intended to break away when angling a tarpon 
Anglers  1 or 2 people fishing at a time  1 to 5 people fishing at a time 
Charter Duration 3-4 hours 6-8 hours


FWC Facts:
American shad are anadromous, which means they live in salt water but spawn in fresh water.

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