Red tide impacts tarpon fishing, but one captain finds catches plentiful

A tarpon caught recently with Capt. Clark Wright (not pictured).
A tarpon caught recently with Capt. Clark Wright (not pictured). Photo provided

Boca Grande is known as “the tarpon fishing capital of the world.”

Red tide bloomed on the southwest Florida coast during the peak of tarpon fishing season, pushing fish out and causing most captains and anglers frustration as they couldn’t figure out what happened to the fish.

But one captain decided he was going to be different, and as a result he discovered something extraordinary.

“It was unreal; there was a huge concentration of probably 10,000 to 20,000 tarpon,” Capt. Clark Wright said. “We were fishing out about 11 or 12 miles offshore, just on the edge of the red tide. Wherever the dolphins and frigate birds were, there was tons of bait and fish.

“Some days we were hooking four or five fish at a time, almost like we were dolphin fishing down in the keys. It was good as can be.”

Born in Venice and now based out of Cortez, Wright took off for Boca Grande nearly on a whim.

“The first day I went down there I caught bait in the Egmont Channel and started running south,” Wright said. “When we got down there I could tell it was something special. I ended up staying for a month and basically lived out of boxes.”

Wright has spent his lifetime studying and learning the patterns of tarpon. He knows their normal eating, spawning and migration schedules. When those schedules change, he’s learned to adjust. One adjustment has lead to excellent late season tarpon fishing up inside Tampa Bay.

“They never really had a chance to spawn in May,” he said. “The water temperature started about 76, 77 and then dropped to 73 on May 16. They want it to be about 80 degrees to start. The fish didn’t get to put the fat content on they need to spawn.

“The tarpon I’ve caught recently have been in a spawn dynamic. They have to put on a lot of fat content and they’ve been gorging on bait, pinfish and crabs. A female tarpon has to eat about 25 pounds of crabs before she can spawn. They’re making easy meals out of pinfish and grunts that are getting weak on the edge of the red tide, and that’s where we’ve been getting into good numbers.”

Over the past week, Wright has hooked up to 18 fish in under two hours.

“Tarpon are an opportunistic feeder,” Wright said. “Some days they’ll eat everything in front of them, especially when they’re trying to put on the fat. Even things like wanting to eat threadfin instead of whitebait because of the oil is something I consider.”

Will it continue? Maybe.

Wright believes this late season tarpon find isn’t something to plan on seeing every year.

“I book tarpon fishing trips every day in May, June and July,” he said. “Three months ago I never could have seen this happening, but it happened. It’s definitely fun when it comes together.”