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Here's chance to put a bend in your rod


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001

Summertime fishing is beginning to set in. Tarpon, cobia, snook, trout, permit and blackfin tuna are making a strong showing, and scaled sardines are abundant for a change.

Perhaps the biggest news is the arrival of the tarpon. These fish have appeared on the flats from Homosassa south to Anclote Island. While not at their peak, there are enough to devote a day to trying your luck at catching our greatest game fish. There are many different methods to hook a tarpon.

In mid depths, 10-25 feet, most anglers cast live baits such as pinfish or blue crabs suspended from a float. Quietly position the boat ahead of rolling fish and cast a line into their path. Trolling motors are beneficial because of the ultra-sensitivity of tarpon toward the sound of outboard motors. Stealth and patience are requirements if you plan on scoring regularly. Most guides who try the famous flats from Homosassa and Bayport use trolling motors to locate areas the fish are holding, then position their boats within casting range with quiet pressure on the push pole. Even when hooked up, most avoid cranking their outboards out of respect for other anglers. The tail end of the spring cobia run is moving through the area.

Flats anglers are catching them in good numbers off New Port Richey and in Tarpon Springs. Stopping by the range markers and bird racks on your way out is a good idea in case that monster fish is around. If you see one, heavy tackle and a free-lined pinfish are your best bet. Offshore, cobia on the wrecks are beginning to thin out, but there are a few bruisers out there. Tom Markham landed one last week in 70 feet of water that was 101 pounds. Blackfin tuna are at their peak.

If you can find the shrimp boats offshore early in the morning, chances are that the tuna and a few school-sized kingfish will be there. In another week or two, the tuna will move out of our area, but now is prime time. If you don't find the shrimpers, try trolling teasers or spreader bars around the wrecks and tide rips in 80 feet or deeper. Tuna catches have been reported from Egmont Key near Tampa Bay to the south end of the middlegrounds, about 70 miles west of Tarpon Springs.

Kingfish action has dropped off. Other than a few small schoolies offshore in deep water, the majority of the run is over. This isn't to say you may not stumble into a smoker while bottom fishing, but most of the charter boats aren't targeting kings. Snook fishing has been fantastic.

Many are moving toward the Gulf in preparation for spawning. Free-lining live scaled sardines is the tried and true method for catching them. Snook will hit a live shrimp, but shrimp are much more susceptible to pinfish attack. Snook seldom will eat a bait that doesn't try to run away when they approach it. Even when using live sardines, a fresh one out of the live well is a much better bait. When looking along the outside islands and flats for snook, you likely are to encounter schools of jumbo speckled trout. We have seen schools of several hundred gathered along sandy beaches and potholes. All of these schooling trout have been big ones -- many over 5 pounds. They're remarkably easy to catch once located. The set up for snook will work.

With water temperatures in the 70s, you should be able to find something exciting to put a bend in your rod.

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