Tarpon - Megalops atlanticus
Also known as: Sabalo, Silver King
Occurs in warm temperate tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This coastal fish can be found both inshore and offshore. Because of its ability to gulp air directly into the air bladder by rolling at the surface, the tarpon is able to enter brackish and fresh waters that are stagnant and virtually depleted of oxygen. Such areas are relatively free of predators, thus offering a convenient refuse for the young.
The body is compressed and covered with very large scales. The lower jaw juts out and up. The teeth are small and fine, and the throat is covered by a bony plate. The dorsal fin consists of 12-16 soft rays (no spines) the last of which is greatly elongated. The back is greenish or bluish varying in darkness from silvery to almost black. The sides and belly are brilliant silver. Inland, brackish water tarpon frequently have a golden or brownish color because of tannic acid found in the water.
Tarpon may shed up to 12 million eggs during a spawn. The eggs hatch at sea and the eel-like larvae drift inshore where they undergo a metamorphosis, shrinking to half the size previously attained and taking on the more recognizable features of the tarpon as they begin to grow again. Tarpon, bonefish, ladyfish and eels all undergo a similar leptocephalus stage, but the first three fish all have forked tails even at the larval state, whereas the eel does not. Tarpon grow rather slowly and usually don’t reach maturity until they are six or seven years old and about 4 ft. (1.2 m) long.
Fishing methods include still fishing with live mullet, pinfish, crabs, shrimp, etc. or casting or trolling with spoons, plugs, and other artificial lures. The best fishing occurs at night when the tarpon is feeding. They are hard to hook because of their hard, bony mouths. Once hooked they put up a stubborn and spectacular fight, often leaping up to 10 feet out of the water. It was one of the first saltwater species to be declared a game fish.
Piers, Docks and Pilings
Call it structure. Wherever there’s structure there’s food, shelter, and fish. Weeds, grasses and other food sources can attach to anything. Docks and piers provide shelter from the sun and a nice resting spot for both big and small fish.
The calmer waters between the place where big waves crash and calm water starts are called breakers. The crashing waves create a sort of trench in the shore. Food settles in the trench, bait fish come for the food and game fish come for the baitfish. This provides an ideal location to find fish but anglers must understand that fish that come to feed in these areas will feed very briefly in one location and move on to continue searching for food.
Sand and mud bottom tidal flats are very shallow areas that are typically a few inches to a few feet deep and are sometimes even exposed at lower tides. These flats are commonly found in many estuarine areas and are highly productive for fishing. These areas are protected from wave action and are often comprised of mud or sand transported by tidal channels.
Saltwater and Tides
Tides raise and lower the water level approximately two times per day and affect where fish are located and how they feed. The timing of a high or low tide changes daily and is also different for each coastal area.
A shallow area that might hold fish and be a very good spot to fish during a high tide will become a bare mud bank during low tide conditions. A slough (a slight depression in the bottom) that might be perfect for bottom feeding fish during a low tide situation might not hold fish on a high tide.
Running tides (rising or falling) are best since they cause bait to move and promote active feeding among coastal fish. Changing tides, time of day and location are also important when you’re fishing in brackish water—coastal water that’s a mix of salt water and fresh water and contains a mix of saltwater and freshwater fish. Brackish water is found in most tidal creeks and rivers along all coasts and is highly affected by tidal movements.
In general, the best fishing is almost always on a rising or falling tide—not the dead low or dead high, also referred to as "slack tides" when there is little or no tidal current.
When the tide moves into a small inlet, or point, it slows down and moves in a different direction than the main flow for a short period of time. Fish will feed where the backwards flow slows down and the food settles.
Jetties and Breakwaters
Waves crash up against jetties and breakwaters, and create ‘holes’ as the wave recedes and carries sand out with it. Since the hole is deeper than the ocean floor, it attracts small shellfish and baitfish looking for calmer water and a place to hide. These hiding spots create ambush spots for predatory game fish. Man-made structures like jetties and breakwaters also give shore anglers better access to deeper waters.
Surf and shore fishing takes a good eye. If you can spot a school of baitfish, then you might be able to catch bigger fish that are following them. But hurry, game fish strike fast and leave. When you locate a school of baitfish, look for the openings or lighter colored circles in the schools of bait. Often times, if a predatory fish is in the midst of a school of baitfish, the bait will try to keep a safe distance on all sides of the larger fish to avoid being eaten. This is what creates the holes in the bait schools. If you cannot locate these holes, cast your bait or lure to the outside edges of the baitfish schools.
Many fish are nocturnal feeders and become more active after the sun sets. When fishing during the night hours, natural baits, such as cut bait and live bait are great choices. Be sure to let the baits soak, and be patient for a bite.
Bays and Estuaries
If you’re fishing in a bay or estuary, you better have a big tackle box. These bodies of water contain a mixture of fresh water and salt water. They also contain a mixture of freshwater and saltwater fish. Bays and estuaries can be fished from shore or from a boat. Estuaries are locations in which the mouth of a river meets the ocean. Estuaries support saltwater fish such as tarpon, snook, redfish and striped bass. Other saltwater fish like shad, herring, salmon and sea-run trout can also be found in estuaries because they need to find saltier or fresher water when it’s time to mate. Freshwater fish like largemouth bass can also survive in the salty waters found in estuaries.
Weather can also affect the mix of fish in combined waters. Stormy weather pushes fresh water from the rivers closer to the ocean, causing freshwater to move farther downstream. Dry weather pushes salt water and saltwater fish further upstream into the rivers.
Ocean bays don’t have much freshwater influence. But because they are protected from severe ocean conditions, they become ideal nurseries for many species of baitfish and shell fish, which can draw bigger saltwater fish into the bays to feed.
Anywhere water is forced to move through a smaller opening, currents run faster and dig deeper into the bottom. Fish will be attracted to these places because the water is deeper and the supply of food is more concentrated in the “pinched’ area.
It’s only natural, baitfish and other marine creatures gather around piers and pilings because they’re looking for food and protection from currents. This attracts larger game fish species like snook and tarpon that feed on the bait surrounding these structures.
Surf and Shore
Surf and coastal shore fishing can be done right from the edge of the ocean, from man-made structures like jetties and breakwaters or from a boat. Some surf anglers actually wade right into the waters to cast to fish that may be lurking under the waves.
Surf and coastal shore fishing is challenging. There’s very little structure to attract fish. So surf and shore fisherman must be able to read the waves, look for color changes in the water, monitor water temperature and understand migration patterns.
Anadromous species migrate from the seas to freshwater streams for dietary and/or reproductive needs. For this reason, anadromous fish can be found in a variety of habitats at various times of year. Specifically, these areas range from bays and estuaries to rivers and streams. Occasionally, anadromous fish can be found offshore, but not in great concentrations.
Prominent in the state of Florida and other areas of the Gulf of Mexico, mangroves provide an important ecosystem for a variety of species. Mangroves can be found in sub-tropical zones in areas where saltwater meets land. Usually, mangroves appear in areas of heavy sand or mud deposits that provide a breeding ground for many organic bacteria. As this happens, a more complex food chain will develop. An additional benefit of mangroves is their ability to provide structure and protection for young fish. For this reason, many species use mangrove forests as a nursery habitat; however, small fish are not the only fish to inhabit this ecosystem. Many large predators make mangroves their home, preying on the small fish. To effectively fish a mangrove, fish the falling tide as bait and predatory fish are forced out of the roots of the mangrove system.
Bait casting is a style of fishing that relies on the weight of the lure to extend the line into the target area. Bait casting involves a revolving-spool reel (or “free spool”) mounted on the topside of the rod. Bait casting is definitely an acquired skill. Once you get the hang of the technique (check out the casting animation), you will be casting your lures right on target into the structures where fish are feeding and hanging out.
With bait casting, you can use larger lures (1/2 to 3/4 ) and cast them for longer distances. To get started, you’ll need a rod with good spring action, a good quality anti-backlash reel, 10–15 pound test line and a variety of specific bait-casting lures.
Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.
With fly-fishing, various materials are used to design a very lightweight lure called a fly. A fly can serve as a ‘dry fly’ or ‘wet fly’. A dry fly will float on the water and mimic a floating insect and a wet fly will sink below the surface to mimic a swimming bait. It takes a little practice, but fly-fishing is a pure and exciting way to fish. Unlike other casting methods, fly-fishing can be thought of as a method of casting line rather than lure. Non-fly-fishing methods rely on a lure's weight to pull line from the reel during the forward motion of a cast. By design, a fly is too light to be cast on its own so it must follow the trajectory of the cast fly line, which is thicker and heavier so that it casts easier than lines used in other types of fishing (such as monofilament). The angler normally holds the fly rod in the dominant hand and manipulates the line with the other hand close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.
Jigging lures, or “jigs”, are some of the most versatile lures in that can be used in just about any place you find fish. Jigs comes in all shapes, colors, styles and weights and can be fished in a variety of different manners so that they mimic baitfish. The two most common jigs are probably the bucktail jig and the vertical jig.
A bucktail jig will typically consist of a lead head, that can be a variety of different shapes and sizes, which is molded onto a hook and has hair-like material tied to the bottom of the jig head. This hair-like material is where the name “bucktail” comes from because many bucktail jigs are made using hair from a deer. The bucktail hair and jighead come in a variety of different colors. These bucktail jigs can be fished by themselves or they can be rigged with a rubber worm, live shrimp or other natural baits like strips of fish.
A vertical jig, or speed jig, is made of a long and slender piece of lead or metal that cuts through the water mimicking an injured baitfish. Vertical jigs will have one or more dangling hooks attached to a split ring which can be attached to the top or the bottom of the jig. Vertical jigs range anywhere from 1/8 oz. up to 14 oz. and are also referred to as “butterfly jigs.”
When fishing with jigs, it is important that the angler constantly jig the lure up and down by constantly lifting the rod tip up and down. A good method for jigging is to drop the jig all the way down to the bottom and with a very rapid retrieval, twitch the rod tip erratically until the jig comes to the surface and repeat. No matter which type of jig you are using, it is important to match the weight of each jig to the depth at which you are fishing. Deeper water will require heavier jigs to reach the bottom. It is also important to take the tides and current into consideration when choosing your jig weight.
We won’t say it’s foolproof, but spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting. You can use it to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6–10 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting.
Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.
Surf casting is perhaps one of the easiest methods of fishing the ocean without access to a boat. Fishing off the beach does not come without its challenges, though. Surf casting requires large and bulky equipment. Rod sizes can be as large as ten feet. Special rigs are used in surf casting in order to combat the strong currents and sometimes large waves. This allows the bait to remain suspended or at the bottom of the water column. The simplest of the rigs consists of a terminal egg weight with a hook attached to a loop knot six or seven inches above the weight.
Bait & Lures
Hard-shell, soft-shell and peeler crabs are all good bait for saltwater fish. You can pull them apart or use them whole. To hook a whole crab, bore the hook through the shell like a drill. Work the hook through the pointed part of the shell on either side of the body. Hooked this way, the crab will live pretty well and provide some action to attract fish.
Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.
Poppers and flies are small lures used with spincast and fly-fishing tackle. These baits are very good for pan fish and other fish that feed on the surface such as trout and bass. Poppers get their action from a cupped face carved or molded into the front of the lure body. Fly action is totally controlled by the angler.
Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish
Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.
Saltwater Live Bait
Using live bait such as shrimp or various baitfish is a very effective method to use while targeting pelagic species of predatory fish. “Baitfish” is a term that refers to any saltwater schooling fish that serve as a food source to other larger fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Good examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, ballyhoo (sometimes referred to as halfbeaks), herring, menhaden and scad.
Shrimp are the favorite meal of saltwater fish. You can use shrimp as bait when you're fishing from a bridge, pier, bank or boat. Different-size fish will hit on different-size shrimp.
Place the hook beneath the shrimp's head so the barb comes out on top, avoiding the black spot. Hooking the black spot will kill a shrimp immediately. Action is important for attracting fish.
You can also insert the hook from the top of the shrimp, work the point beneath the black spot and bring the barb out on top again. This method is considered best for bottom fishing.
A third method stops bait-stealing fish. Insert the hook from the tail of the shrimp and thread the body onto the hook, passing the barb beneath the black spot.
Tips and Tricks for Shrimp
You can keep shrimp fresh in a freshwater minnow bucket. No matter what you store them in, don't overcrowd shrimp.
Perhaps the most effective method for catching largemouth bass is with soft plastics. This is especially true of the plastic worm. In general, worms are fished very slowly and smoothly. A soft plastic can be rigged one of three ways: the Carolina rig, the Texas rig and the Wacky rig. The primary difference between the Carolina and Texas rigs is the location of the lead weight. In a Texas rig, the bullet weight rests directly in front of the plastic; whereas the bullet weigh is separated approximately six inches from the worm by a swivel in a Carolina rig. A Wacky rig is simply a soft plastic tube or tail-less worm that is hooked right at the center of the lure. The idea for the Wacky rig is to have two equal lengths of the worm or tube on both ends of the hook. All of this rigging is applicable to virtually all soft plastics, including swim baits and artificial crayfish.
Color choice depends on the body of water being fished. Brighter colors tend to work better in clear, translucent water, and darker colors tend to work better in opaque, muddy water.
There are many styles of worms and this too is dependant of the specific body of water. Generally, the more commotion a lure creates, the better it is for muddy water. You simply have to be prepared for whatever conditions you will meet on the water.
Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.