St. Petersburg Times

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Every spring, huge schools of tarpon move south along the West Coast of Florida. Anglers have two chances to catch these fish. The first is as the tarpon travel along local beaches before they head offshore to spawn. The second opportunity comes after the fish have spawned and the tarpon move into the bait-rich backwaters of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor to spawn.

GRAPHIC by Amanda Raymond, TEXT by Terry Tomalin

Megalops atlanticus, often called “the silver king” of game fish occurs in warm temperate and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Because of its ability to “roll” on the surface and “gulp” air, these fish can travel far into stagnant, brackish waters with little oxygen.

There is no size limit or closed season on tarpon. Anglers may keep two tarpon per
day, but they must first purchase a $50 tarpon tag for each fish harvested.

Slingers Anglers can cast or “sling’’ live bait at schools of tarpon as they swim a few hundred yards off the beaches from Anclote Key to Boca Grande. The fish can travel in schools of 100 or more, but most beach tarpon fishermen will find themselves casting to smaller “pods” of fish of a dozen or fewer.
These small schools spook easily, so it is critical that anglers show mutual respect. If you spot fish, check to see if there is another boat waiting ahead of the school for a chance to cast. If so, move past them, then shut your engine off and wait for your turn to cast. An electric trolling motor will increase your chances of success.


Equipment New technology has enabled beach fishermen to use lighter tackle.

An 8-foot fiberglass spinning rod such as the #18 Dogfish Stik rigged with a Penn 9500 or a Diawa BG 90 reel.

With heavy superbraid line such as 65-pound Berkley Whiplash or Power Pro, these reels have a capacity of more than 600 yards.

Penn 9500 reel.


Soakers Bottom fishing, or “soaking” a dead bait, is preferred by many anglers in early May and later in the season after the fish have spawned following the full moon in June. Bottom fishermen often find success during the last hour of an incoming tide and during the first hour of an outgoing tide.
Tackle Bottom fishermen fish with as many as eight or 10, 8- to 9-foot rods at one time.

The Penn 4/0 Senator, with its large line capacity, is the reel of choice.

Items not to scale.

Source: International Game Fish Association’s 2003 World Record Game Fishes

1. 50-pound test line with at least 6-feet of 150-pound test leader, joined together with a Berkley 200-pound test swivel.

2. Attach the leader to a 8/0 or 9/0 Gamakatsu 4X Octopus hook using a Berkley #2 Double-Chambered Mono Sleeve.

3. When fishing areas with strong current, reduce the number of rods and add a 1-ounce, pinch-on lead sinker.


Contributors: Ed Walker is a dedicated “slinger” and specializes in beach fishing for tarpon. Walker and his clients have won more than $400,000 in tarpon tournament prize money and hold the current Boca Grande tarpon tournament record of 208pounds. For information, go to Jay Mastry, a lifelong “soaker,’’ has fished the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup since he was old enough to walk. Mastry, who is also one of the winningest king-fish tournament anglers in the Tampa Bay area, fishes nearly every day during tarpon season.