Tarpon rookie? Don’t be intimidated!

This is your first visit to Boca Grande and you keep hearing from your friends just how fun and exciting tarpon fishing is. Sounds like something you might like to experience, but you don’t have a clue where to begin.

Let me try to help.

The first thing a new visitor needs to understand is that there are several different ways to fish for tarpon. All can be productive and offer different challenges.

Another consideration is that guides vary in experience and type of equipment they use. The trick for the newcomer is to decide just which trip and guide is the right one for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how you get answers.

I will try to break down the most popular types of guided trips that are available and provide a few comments that, hopefully, will help you make an informed decision.

• Traditional trip: This is the method of fishing for tarpon that made Boca Grande Pass famous. After a short and comfortable 10-minute ride to the pass, anglers will find they do not need to have any experience fishing at all to have a very good chance of catching a 100-pound plus tarpon. This is also the safest and most comfortable type of trip to introduce kids to tarpon fishing. I try to use the age of 10 on my boat as a guideline before I allow a child in the chair. Younger kids are encouraged to come along for the thrill and experience.

The boats used for traditional tarpon fishing are generally in the 24- to 45-foot range and almost all offer restroom facilities. These trips are usually planned by “tides.” A tide is best described as a three- or five-hour period of the day or night when the captain believes conditions will be right for success. I recommend anyone booking a traditional pass trip follow the captain’s advice concerning departure time.

Most local captains fishing traditionally book their tides around the low light hours of sunrise and sunset. Many will also book trips throughout the night and during daylight hours, especially the early afternoons around the full and new moons, known as “hill tides.”

The expense of a traditional trip is somewhere around $400 for a 1/2 tide (about three hours) trip, $600 for a full tide (about five hours) trip, and $700 for a split tide (two three-hour trips, same day). Guided trips should include all licenses, tackle, bait and ice for a group of up to six anglers. Gratuities are always appreciated, especially if the boat uses a mate, who is usually working only for tips.

• Beach tarpon trip: This can be an exciting way to stalk tarpon as they migrate along the beaches north and south of Boca Grande Pass or as they enter Charlotte Harbor later in the summer. This method involves casting live bait to fish that have been sighted by the captain. Some fishing experience is preferred if you plan on doing the casting yourself. However, many captains cast for their anglers from a tower where they can see the fish better and then transfer the rod to the angler. Spin or baitcasting equipment in the 30-pound class range is usually the norm.

Due to the fact that this method is dependent on sight fishing, weather and wind direction can be more of a factor on your success rate than other techniques.

Boats used for this method are usually flats skiffs in the 18- to 21-foot range that prefer two anglers, but can carry a maximum of three anglers. Some captains use outboard bay boats in the 24- to 28-foot range that can handle as many as six anglers, but four or less is preferred.

Rates for this method generally run in the $550 range for a six- to eight-hour trip. The price may vary among captains according to the number of people.

• Fly-fishing for tarpon: The most challenging way to catch a tarpon is with a fly rod. Catching a tarpon with this method ranks among the major accomplishments of sport fishing. Some fly fishing experience is a must, as is good quality equipment. The success rate is low, but the satisfaction rate is high when you actually land one.

Guides fish a maximum of two anglers out of a flats skiff. Usually the angler’s alternate turns or “shots” at casting to fish. This technique is also weather-sensitive due to the fact that the angler is usually sight fishing. Most fishing is done along the beaches and in the smaller local passes. Some are also caught in the back country and up the harbor late in the season.

Rates for a full day of fly-fishing run in the $500 to $600 range. Be sure to discuss with the guide your equipment. There are relatively few local guides specializing in fly-fishing and they are in great demand. Many are booked a year in advance. There are some good, young guides with time available, but anyone wishing to fly-fish for tarpon should not delay when looking for a guide.

-Capt Sandy Melvin

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