Target Tarpon in Tampa Bay - By Captain Matt Selby

Published on 15 June 2017 in Business

Mid May is smack dab in the middle of the Tarpon migration. The Tarpon bite is on fire in Tampa Bay and surrounding areas from now until the end of June. Local guides and recreational fishermen alike chomp at the bit for this time of year, and for good reason; Tarpon fishing is addicting, plain and simple. All it takes is a large fish, maybe a 100 pounder or so, to grab your bait and start it’s unrivaled arial show as she attempts to throw the hook for even the most seasoned angler to be “hooked” on tarpon for life. 

When Tarpon feel the sharp steel of the hook, this fish has a propensity for skyrocketing from the water and ejecting both bait and hook high into the air. Even when an angler was lucky enough to survive this first burst of acrobatics and succeed in finding a place for the hook to imbed in the Tarpons hard mouth, only then did the angler truly understand the awesome strength of the mighty Silver King! If the hook sticks, an angler can prepare for a back-breaking 30 minute or longer fight! 

“There’s no feeling like it! Adrenaline pumps through my veins so hard sometimes my body starts shaking when a Tarpon finally takes the bait,” says John Swan of Tarpon Springs. 

Tarpon weren’t always a sought after gamefish in our area, in fact, my grandfather would rather net up some mullet to throw on the smoker than break his back for a fish that offered no food value. He also never had the opportunity to battle a Tarpon on rod and reel as a younger man or I have a feeling his thoughts on targeting Tarpon would be different. In fact, I even shared his same views on Tarpon fishing until I hooked into my first large fish floating a live grunt in the Florida Keys about 15 years ago. 

In 1885 William H. Wood and his massive Silver fish made international headlines after being landed on rod and reel for the first time on record in an area now called “Tarpon Bay” of southwest Florida. This was the start of a brand new big-game fishing frontier in the state but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Tampa Bay anglers learned that the silver sided giants could be found in plentiful numbers right here at home. 

Boca Grande, about an hour and a half south of Tampa is world renowned for the very best Tarpon fishing on the planet! Ask any serious Tarpon fisherman where their favorite place to target Tarpon is and Boca Grande usually comes out of their mouth with a big smile. Schools of well over 10,000 migratory fish show up in the Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor starting in April and by this time of year the pass can look like a parking lot on the weekends with well over 100 boats at peak fishing hours sharing the same space. Tensions can be high and “road rage” type scenes are common if a boater runs over the line of a fisherman’s hooked up fish. Boca Grande, especially the pass is no place for newbies and an experienced charter captain is almost a necessity. My friend Captain Mike Manning of Action Fishing Adventures has over 20 years of experience in the waters off Boca Grande. When I want to catch big Tarpon in Boca Grande, I charter Mike. Yes, you heard that right, Mike’s so good, other fishing guides, such as myself, charter him when they want to catch big Boca Grande Tarpon! 

Fishing for Tarpon near the Skyway bridge in Tampa can also be a little crowded at times but weekdays are perfect! This time of year, very much like in Boca, Tarpon are feeding on blue crabs being swept out of the flats and out into the deeper passes. Tarpon by the thousands set up shop in these locations looking for an easy meal. Presentation is of the utmost importance when Tarpon fishing. This means understanding how the fish feed and how to set up your drift so that your bait looks like every other little crab being flushed out with the tide. Screw this up, and you’ll be one frustrated fisherman. Tarpon are happy to bite if everything looks right, get it wrong (and that’s easy to do) and you may not see a bite all season. Like all fishing, trial and error plays a big role in the success an angler will experience. Some people use Bobbers but I prefer a balloon because I can easily adjust the depth of my bait on-the-fly. In my opinion, live bait is king but a well presented swim bait like a 7 or 9 inch Hogy lure or a hard bait such as Pauls unfair Mullet 120 by Unfair Lures are some of my favorite choices.

Tarpon numbers are bouncing back to record highs now that catch and release has become common practice for the magnificent Silver King of Game Fish. It’s beyond frowned upon to take these beautiful fish and kill them just for a picture or to have them stuffed and mounted. A quick boat side picture is more than sufficient to keep the memory and if you really want to commemorate the fight, have a replica fish mount created. They can be created by a simple picture and/or measurements.  

If you would like to go fishing with me in Tampa Bay or search for Tarpon along the beaches you can contact me at or if you want to go fishing in Boca Grande with Captain Mike Manning of Action Fishing Adventures you can call him at 727-243-8918 

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