The silver king is here.
In fact, tarpon have been here since mid-March, according to Capt. T.J. Stewart of Cast Away Charters.
"I started targeting tarpon in Tampa Bay in March," Stewart said. "We've been hooking a few fish most trips since then."
Mid-May is when most tarpon anglers really start to target the massive game fish. As waters warm toward summer, pods of tarpon make their way north along the Florida coast. In recent years, anglers like Stewart have targeted early-season fish around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which is a feeding ground for many predators as well as tarpon.
"This week, we caught a 10-foot bull shark on tarpon gear. It was the largest fish I've caught while fishing for tarpon," Stewart described. "The sharks have been pretty bad this year, big hammerhead and bull sharks. The tarpon have been a bit weary to bite at times with so many sharks around."
To target tarpon around the Skyway, Stewart uses 50-pound braided line and 80-pound leader with large threadfin or whitebait. He says tide movement is key, incoming or outgoing, and the stronger the better.
Tarpon will "roll" on the surface, giving anglers their location. Presenting your bait correctly where the fish are showing will give an angler the best chance for a hookup. This varies day to day, so pay close attention to surroundings like tide movements, schools of bait and wind rips.
"The morning bite and late afternoon bite has been best," Stewart said. "The morning is best for me because it's not as windy."
While there usually isn't much by-catch during tarpon fishing, Stewart has been pleasantly surprised in recent weeks. Angler Kevin Maleski landed an 80-pound cobia, which is incredible for Tampa Bay. This past week, Stewart's anglers also landed large kingfish, along with many sharks like the bull shark mentioned earlier.
If tarpon fishing isn't your thing (how could it not be?), Stewart also says inshore fishing remains good. As water warms, he says the afternoon bite has been better for redfish, snook and trout.
During Friday's Bimini Bay Tournament, Stewart took home first place with a slam consisting of a 39-inch snook, 33.5-inch redfish and 25.5-inch trout. His boat also landed a 41.5-inch snook after Stewart hopped in the water to untangle the line for a dock, disallowing the catch.
Capt. T.J. Stewart can be reached at 941-737-5985 or through his website at CastAwayChartersInc.com.
If you have the itch to do a tournament of your own, next weekend is the 31st annual Sam Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament based out of the Bradenton Yacht Club. The tournament is a local favorite and is always competitive. Those interested in signing up or seeing more information may visit crosthwaitfishing.com.