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April 14, 2010

Top Tarpon Tactics

Modify your tackle and technique for picky tarpon...

Tarpon may be only a few steps above a pet rock on the intelligence ladder, but they are quite capable of learning. Many decades of fishing semiresident populations - fish that come back annually to the same location at the same time of the year and remain there for months - have taught me that frequent exposure to any lure or even live bait will teach tarpon that those items mean trouble.

First they begin to avoid the particular lure they see most often. Showing them something different works for a while, and then the avoidance begins all over again. These cycles will repeat over a period of years until, eventually, nothing seems to work - at least during daylight hours.

Nowadays, tarpon everywhere get more angler pressure than at any time in their multimillion-year existence, which means they are today much more difficult to fool.

Tactical Diagnosis
A skillful angler can still score with consistency. One reason is that, with each passing year, lures keep getting better and more realistic. Plus there are ways to make these lures even more productive. I am still catching tarpon regularly on both hard- and soft-bodied plugs modified to carry a single treble hook instead of multiples. Best of all, my hookup rate has increased dramatically.

It seems the way to get a solid hookup is not by repeatedly jerking hard to set the hook but by simply applying steady pressure, almost like fishing live bait. Too quick on the trigger definitely means less success, while not being in too much of a hurry to set the hook appears to work best. Of course, this depends on keeping all three points of that single treble as sharp as possible at all times.

In addition to the increased hookup potential, a single treble gives a major safety bonus. Since there are no other free-swinging sets of trebles loose inside the tarpon's mouth, the risk of getting one of those hooks in some part of your anatomy is vastly diminished - to the point that I almost never use a lip gaff to land a tarpon. A pair of gloves capable of maintaining a good grip on the lower jaw is sufficient and also a lot easier on the tired tarpon. And for those fish hooked in the lip, a dehooker works just fine without your ever needing to put your hands on them.

Even with the conversion, single treble plugs maintain their designed balance and action. And with the added flashy enticement of a spinner blade on the tail, it is virtually impossible to move the plug too slowly, a real advantage in discolored water, since having it out longer obviously gives any nearby tarpon more time to locate it. Plugs that make noise also help, both on the surface and underwater. Contrary to what some anglers have told me, I find that tarpon are indeed attracted to plugs that rattle, gurgle and pop loudly.

Rig Reconstruction
Your choice of tackle and how to rig it makes a difference. For instance, I strongly prefer monofilament line (16- to 20-pound-test for easier casting) over braid because the stretch actually helps to both hook the fish (by maintaining constant pressure) and fight it (by being far less likely to break during jumps and sudden lunges).

I also prefer baitcasting reels over spinning because I feel I have better control of the situation, plus there are none of the line-twist problems inherent to spinning. The best baitcasting reels for this are those that have a full-time levelwind that moves back and forth during casting as well as retrieving, since this causes far less line wear.