Use the right bait for the best results

There are several live baits that have proven to be effective over the years for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. Each bait has a time and place that it is most productive. Let’s take a look at a few of these baits along with some thoughts on techniques used to fish them for the most success.


Early in the season, day or night, shrimp account for a great number of tarpon caught and released in the pass. People are often surprised that a fish as large as a tarpon is caught with such a small bait. But, like a movie patron munching on popcorn, tarpon love shrimp. When the shrimp are running through the pass, tarpon will key on them and often reject other baits.

Most often shrimp are fished without weight to catch tarpon that are suspended off the bottom, nose into the tide, and casually picking off the tasty little critters as they sweep by. Shrimp that are fished too closely to the bottom are usually taken quickly by the many snapper and grouper that live below.

Since most anglers use a large 5/0 hook, it’s best to hook them from underneath their “chin” and through the horn on top. This will allow the hook to act as a keel and keep the shrimp swimming naturally. Make sure the hook penetrates forward of the dark spot (brain) to keep the shrimp lively.


All things considered, crabs are probably the #1 bait for tarpon in the pass. During the season, great numbers of crabs are flushed in and out of Charlotte Harbor and the tarpon are happy to take advantage of this buffet line. There are basically three types of crabs that are found in the pass: the blue crab and two types of commonly called “pass crabs,” the brown crab and the purple legged crab. During the spring tides around the new and full moons, known as Hill tides to the locals, crabs follow the strong outgoing tides on a ride to the gulf and are easily picked off by the tarpon.

These crabs can be anywhere throughout the water column, and anglers can fish them with or without weight on the fast tides. A popular technique is to float a blue crab or a freshly dipped brown crab under a cork to catch the tarpon that are near the surface. Purple legged crabs are a little more delicate than the other two and are a favorite fly lined (no weight) during the early morning slack tides.

At night is where a crab really shines. Most guides fish them with just enough weight to allow their drift to match the speed of the current. Hook them on the point of the shell from the underside and be sure to remove the claws so that they will not grab the line and spin as they drift. Experiment by keeping them at different depths until the most productive zone is found.

Squirrel fish:

When the tarpon are relating to the bottom of the pass during the day, the squirrel fish is often the best bait to use.

These little baitfish are caught on hook and line on sandy bottoms offshore and are prized by guides for their toughness and ability to generate a strike when nothing else seems to work. There are two methods of presentation that are popular among the local guides. “Bombing” a squirrel fish is a technique used with a heavy weight to keep the bait near the bottom of the deepest areas of the pass. “Dragging” a squirrel fish is usually applied when the tarpon are on the “Hill” or out on the “Pan.” These areas of the pass are shallower and the baits are slightly pulled with the current using little or no weight. Hook them lightly just forward of the dorsal fin.


Threadfin herring, pilchards, pinfish, grunts, and mutton minnows are among other baits that will also catch tarpon in the pass.

Mutton minnows are a popular bait when fly lining during the day on the slow or slack tides while pinfish and grunts are often the best baits to use late in the season as the water temperatures are at their height for the year.

Threadfins and pilchards (whitebait) are often used while sight casting to pods of tarpon coming and going from the pass.

Local guides have spent years learning and controlling the drift rate of their boats in all conditions. They know how the various stages of the tides and wind direction will effect the presentation of these baits in the pass. Give us a call and learn firsthand the subtle differences in technique that each guide uses for these baits to catch the Silver King.

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