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April 14, 2010

Top Tarpon Tactics

Modify your tackle and technique for picky tarpon...

Baitcasting reels that are relatively narrow cast noticeably easier than the wide-spool models. Line capacity is no longer an issue here, thanks to the ultrathin gel braids. I simply add 100 yards of 20-pound-test braid to the spool first and then top it off with mono for casting and fighting the fish. It's always possible to get 150 to 200 yards of mono on top of the gel unless the reel is just too small for this application in the first place.

Good knots and suitable leaders are critical to success if you want to land a really large tarpon quickly with tackle this light. Use a reliable 100 percent knot (e.g., a Bimini twist, with the double line formed by tying) to connect the first stage of the leader. About 5 feet of 40- to 50-pound-test mono as the first stage of the leader has worked for me over the years. Connect 2 feet of heavy fluorocarbon to this as the shock leader; use 60-pound-test if the water is clear and that's what it takes to get strikes, otherwise 80. You may lose a really large tarpon now and then with 60, but I have yet to see 80 fail.

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Homework   
I hate treble hooks with a passion. Multiple trebles snag the gills and other vulnerable parts of the fish and often impede each other during the hook-set. But my efforts to replace them with a single hook just had not been satisfactory on fish with hard mouths. My solution was to remove all trebles except for the one nearest the front of the lure, which I sharpen carefully. I replace the rear hook with a split ring and spinner blade in silver, gold or bright red, about the same width as the cross section of the lure. Remaining hook hangers are left empty. The fluttering spinner increases the apparent action of the plug, especially during slow retrieves. I also get lots of strikes when the plug sits motionless or when it sinks slowly. No doubt the lifelike flashing of the spinner is a major contributor to this.

These simple modifications do not affect lure balance significantly, but I sometimes replace the remaining treble with one that is slightly larger if I want the lure to sink a little faster.

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Theater of Operations
It remains true that tarpon, which have large eyes and excellent vision, are easiest to fool when light levels are low. That's why after dark is typically most productive, dawn or dusk are next, and overcast days yield more strikes than bright days. Even though it is a bit more challenging, I still prefer to fish for them during the day, when I can fully enjoy the visual excitement of their incredible aerobatic antics. They also bite artificials more readily if the water is less than bathtub clear. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as too much turbidity.

Wind is a different story. Tarpon do not like wind. Perhaps that's at least partly because wind-driven waves tend to suspend larger sand particles in the water, which they find irritating. It never surprises me to see them vanish quickly when a sudden wind starts making waves, even in relatively clean water.