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Tarpon, tides and beach mornings.

Moving water! There's nothing that triggers a good bite in West Central waters like some good moving water. This month's new and full moon weeks on the tide chart in the 2010 Florida Sportsman Fishing Planner look like peaks and valleys of a mountain chain, with extreme highs pushing water up nearly three feet above mean low with the bottom falling out at a half-foot below the average low. That's a tide swing of about 3 1/2 feet over the course of a period of just over 8 hours, and around here, that's huge.

Tarpon daisy-chaining along the beaches is a sight to behold, and the real highlight this month is the fishing addiction that involves shimmering silver giants that invade our beaches. It's about the spawn and the daisy chain that triggers the hunger that brings these fish to local waters. Simply put, it's tarpon time.


Tarpon can be found inside Tampa Bay all the way to Safety Harbor and back down to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of course the main channel leading out of Tampa Bay to Egmont Key and beyond is famous for holding some monsters that tip the scales well beyond the 200-pound mark, but in recent years, this well-known area, like Boca Grande to the south, has begun to take on a somewhat over-populated look as tournament anglers zero in on big schools of fish.


For many a guide and angler who want more elbow room and solitude, the troughs along the beaches on a stretch from Point of Rocks off Sarasota to Bean Point on Anna Maria Island provide all the glamour of the crystal clear waters of the Florida Keys and the bait-holding capacity to attract monster fish. A short hop from Pinellas, Sarasota, or Hillsborough counties to Anna Maria or Longboat Key will put you in prime tarpon waters.

Rising a few hours before sunup to prepare to tangle with tarpon is the norm for tarpon anglers. Trailering a boat to one of several ramps near the heart of 'poon country is a snap in Manatee County. Just north of Longboat Pass, inside the bay, are two quality boat ramps at Coquina Beach that are accessible via Gulf of Mexico Drive. These ramps are a quick motor out of north Sarasota Bay through Longboat Pass that will take you along the beaches south along Longboat Key to Siesta Key and Point O' Rocks, or north along Anna Maria beaches to the Passage Key area off Bean Point.

Off the beaches, beginning at the one-mile mark, are a host of artificial reefs that hold baitfish all summer. Approaching Anna Maria Island from the northeast on Manatee Avenue just west of the ICW, the Kingfish boat ramp provides availability to the north tip of the island at Bean Point. Of course, from south Pinellas either at Fort Desoto or several other ramps located at O'Neil's Marina, Maximo Park, or off 4th Street in St. Petersburg, it's about a half hour run toward Bean Point to put you along good Manatee County beaches.

What makes these beaches prime for tarpon? Troughs, shoals, rocks, and above all, plentiful bait. Loads of baitfish school up from the swim buoys to several miles offshore. Tarpon follow the contour of these troughs that run in depths from 7 to 14 feet. Staking out a flats skiff with a pushpole and waiting for a shot at the fish that run these known routes is the way to go. Running motors, either an outboard or a trolling motor at high speeds, will put even the happiest tarpon down and keep them from eating.

Fly anglers have great shots at sight-fished tarpon as they run the beaches when morning easterly winds are light to nil. A properly presented fly in clean water on quiet mornings is the best approach, but also the most difficult. Last year's tarpon season was a bear, with west winds blowing 10 to 15 knots most mornings. It created a daily challenge and ruined a lot of tarpon trips. We can only hope for normal conditions this season.

When it comes to lures, the fact that hand-tied flies can be made to any size and shape sets them apart from the mass-marketed lures available today. Unique color combinations can mean the difference in catching a tarpon or not. Livebait anglers need only to soak a threadfin, pass crab, pinfish, or shad, either corked or freelined, and cutbait enthusiasts almost always love a half-blue crab or shad (menhaden is the true name). For devoted lure anglers, lures like the vintage 65M MirrOlure are great for working deep out around the Skyway or wherever the depths require a more rapid sink rate. Along the beaches, the MirrOlure Catch 2000 with stouter hooks added and the D.O.A. Trolling Model Baitbuster seem to have become a couple of the new standards.

At times, and particularly just prior the new and full moons, tarpon can be found daisy chaining--milling around in circles doing what amounts to a mating dance prior to heading offshore to spawn. The new moon on June 12 will see schools of fish that are eager to eat. The full moon that occurs on June 26 will be a major event for several reasons. Typically the full moon in June sparks an event in the bays with a shrimp spawn, moving these critters out into the Gulf on the late-day outgoing tide, and this year should be outstanding. The winter freeze provided a lot of protein in terms of fish killed by the cold. The reduction of fish that ate shrimp can only mean an extra-special shrimp run. As when targeting any fish, matching the hatch is best, and an imitation shrimp or other crustacean will likely get results. Amazing acrobatics and raw strength make tarpon this month's showcase species.


All-around variety is the best bet this month. Winter's prolonged cold did some damage to our fishery, and snook are currently under study to find out where we stand with the remaining stocks. The normal closure this time of year is on, and anglers who do target snook for catch and release find this to be one of the easiest times of year to catch linesiders. Schools offish swarm the passes and fan out along the beaches close to the inlets. Morning beach walkers can entertain themselves by casting small jigs in the trough of water that meets the beaches for some action.

But the inshore scene offers much more than only snook. Cobia, pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, redfish, ladyfish, jacks, sharks, and even tripletail abound this month. Take your pick.

If offshore is your game, bluewater species are out there. Blackfin tuna, dolphin, wahoo, blue and white marlin, and swordfish provide all the sport you can handle. Many anglers will take advantage of the calmer weather this month and make long trips, ranging from 70 to 100 miles offshore, for big pelagics, snapper and grouper, and for the adventure.
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Title Annotation:ACTION SPOTTER
Author:Markham, Ray
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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