Tarpon Trick or Treat
W hen October rolls around, any fisherman who hasn’t turned in his rod and reel and parked his boat to focus on deer hunting is primarily paying attention to the big redfish and speckled trout that have put on the feedbag just ahead of winter.
Others are chasing migrating flounders. Very few seem to realize that October is also a prime time in South Texas to adorn oneself in silver. Big tarpon—some really big ones—are migrating through the passes out to sea, and they’re hungry, hostile, and itching for a fight.
For years, tarpon were one of the mainstay sportfish of LLM, and they were ingrained in the cultural identity of the communities of Port Isabel and South Padre Island. The Texas International Fishing Tournament and the annual Tarpon Rodeo focused more on industrial-sized ’poons and less on “food fish” such as trout and redfish.
Their numbers dropped off precipitously up and down the coast after World War II. However, the silvery fish have been so successful in coming back, that Jeremy Ebert of Deer Park, Texas broke the state tarpon record on October 4, 2006 with a 210 pound, 11 ounce behemoth. He hooked and landed the huge tarpon while soaking menhaden in the surf for redfish off the Galveston fishing pier.
Port Isabel tarpon aficionado Larry Haines once hooked into a tarpon he estimated at 220 pounds. He fought the monster from the Boca Chica jetties and from Captain Randy Rodger’s skiff for more than eight hours before succumbing to heat prostration. Had Captain Rodgers not broken the fish off and gotten Haines back to Jim’s Pier on Padre Island and to some immediate attention, the story would’ve ended badly.
There are some big fish rolling out there, waiting for the stalwart angler to have a go at them.
A properly equipped fisherman has a shot at latching onto one of the tarpon that cruises the Brazos Santiago Pass. Early in the morning, you can actually see pods rolling along the Boca Chica side of the Brazos Santiago Jetties.
These tarpons are not necessarily feeding, but they will take a swipe at a topwater or a ¾-ounce gold or chrome Rat-L-Trap. Live baiters can try an oversized shrimp, six-inch finger mullet, or palm-sized pinfish fished under a balloon.
If you’re shore bound, you may be well advised to equip yourself with a large-capacity spinning reel or casting reel and a 7 ½ to 8 foot medium/medium heavy rod. These fish can wreak havoc on lesser tackle.
My preferred outfit is a customized seven-foot, six-inch Shimano Crucial Flipping rod coupled with a Tranx 400, loaded with 50-pound PowerPro braid. I attach a seven-foot, 50-pound fluorocarbon leader with a Bristol knot.
If I’m fishing live bait, I’ll add a six-inch piece of tieable titanium leader wire to prevent any lurking kingfish from biting me off. The ’poons don’t seem to mind.
As the day progresses, fishermen who are still working the area should focus on the deeper hole at the end of the jetty. Some tarpons—and a few snook—will still be holding in the cooler depths, waiting for the current to push something edible by their noses.
Again, a live shrimp or baitfish, fished deeper in the water column will not last long. Lure fishermen should look to an oldie but goodie, the Mirrolure Series 65M twitch bait in red head/white body.
The 65M features the same action as the more popular 51MR, but the heavier weight allows the lure to fish deeper in the water column (rock walkers can also make longer casts with the 1.25-ounce plug).
Fly fishermen should not shy away from trying for these kings of the granite. A 9 to10 weight fly rod with plenty of backing should work well in most applications. The most popular fly is a white monster called the Tarpon Bunny, which seems to be stiff mojo for tarpon of all sizes.
For more information on how to properly equip yourself for jetties tarpon, contact Larry Haines at The Shop (956-943-1775).
Schools of smaller tarpon are always roaming the surf beginning in July. When southeasterly winds push clear water all the way up to the beach, you can actually see the pods of tarpon cruising through the waves or in the guts during high tide.
The great thing about these fish is that they are perfect opponents for the typically equipped surf fisherman who is chasing trout and redfish. A 40-pound tarpon is great fun on a 7- to 7½-foot trout rod with a reel loaded with 12- to 15-pound line. You can fight him from the shore, and if the fish starts a greyhound run parallel to the beach, you can hoof it keep up with him.
These beach-combing tarpon will strike the same lures and flies that trout and redfish will strike. If you target them specifically, patterns that include white or red seem to work best, and noisy plugs are very effective.
Don’t be surprised if one of these junior thugs sucks down a shrimp under a popping cork, either. These fish aren’t very discriminating. Jeremy Ebert’s fish showed they’d even take cut bait.
It may not seem appropriate behavior for so cosmopolitan a fish as the tarpon to slurp down a chunk of cut mullet, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a fisherman that will complain.
Email Cal Gonzales at
Email Calixto Gonzales at ContactUs@fishgame.com