Capt. Travis Yaeckel displays a beautiful Tarpon caught by Alex Shouppe in Tampa Bay on a recent charter.

Tampa Bay is Hot!

Water temperatures inshore has shifted our focus to deeper water. Bay fishing has produced the best action and kept the rods bent even during the hottest parts of the day. Tarpon have finally showed up in numbers and we have started off the season landing some really nice fish. Mangrove Snapper, Spanish Mackerel, and the occasional Cobia have kept us entertained and offered some great table fair as well.

During July, Tampa Bay is invaded by the Silver Kings. Throughout the summer, Tarpon can be targeted in several areas throughout the area. Generally, the beach and gulf fishing hold larger schools of migratory fish as opposed to inside the bay where smaller pods of fish can be found. The ‘hill’ tides or very strong outgoing tides around the new and full moons will produce the best chances at finding and catching these giants. A live pass crab or threadfin herring is my bait of choice during the stronger tides and a cut threadfin, mullet, ladyfish, or pinfish on the weaker periods.

Depending on the area, we will fish the live baits either on a cork or free-line. For me, I like to watch the fish activity. If they are active on the surface, I will use a cork. Otherwise, I prefer a ‘tail hooked’ free-lined bait. Remember to keep the bait drifting with the current providing slack to let the bait swim naturally. As far as the rig goes – for live bait fishing, 6 ft. of 50-60 lb. Ohero Fluorocarbon leader and a 5/O-6/O wide gap circle hook will get the job done. When fishing the cut bait, I like to bump up to 80 lb. leader and a change to a 7/O-8/O hook as the fish aren’t near as picky feeding off the bottom. Once hooked up to a fish, get ready to ‘bow to the king’ by point your rod at the fish to provide slack in the line so you don’t break off or pull the hook. Otherwise, keep the rod bent and line tight at all times and prepare for a battle. Most larger tarpon (100lbs+) will take at least 30 minutes to get to the boat.

A few things to remember are take your time, apply constant pressure, and stay focused. Use your outboard or trolling motor to stay close to the fish and use the weight of your boat to tire the fish out. Be extremely careful when landing one of these giants, especially when they get to the boat quickly. A few pictures boat side is best and remember that it is against the law to remove any fish larger than 40” from the water. Be sure to give any landed fish plenty of time for recovery by placing the boat in gear and getting plenty of flow across its gills but always watch out for the ‘tax man’ (sharks). In our area, look for larger schools of fish around Egmont Key and Anna Maria Island. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, shipping channels, and local reefs will hold smaller aggregations.