The ability to catch fish comes with timing. Being in the right place at the right time means everything. This is especially true when tarpon fishing.
I grew up tarpon fishing only in the evenings. We would head out after work, school, sports, or whatever daily activity there was. We would anchor at Egmont Key, drifting large threadfin and pilchards along the bar for passing fish. It was very productive and, in my opinion, much easier than chasing fish up and down the beach. Good nights produced nonstop bites that lasted well into the morning.
While some nights are better than others, that strategy still works. Eric Pullen has been timing his fishing trips to when the tarpon are hungry this summer.
"I work during the day so don't get to leave until 5 or 5:30 p.m.," Pullen said. "After catching bait, we're usually not fishing until 6:30 p.m. The nice thing about the evenings is there are less boats and hungry fish."
Anglers like Pullen have noticed the extreme amount of boats fishing at Bean Point in recent weeks during the morning and afternoon hours. Most of the time, this is a case of anglers following the crowd thinking it may be the best strategy. Courtesy often is lost, frustrating those who try to be mindful of others. As the evening sets in or storms approach, the crowd dwindles and the fishing usually gets better.
"Last Sunday, the fish came up 15 minutes before sunset. Most boats left right before last light when the bite turned on.
"Some nights, storms approach and we take cover while they pass, maybe grab a beer at Rod & Reel pier. We head back out and fish in the dark where the fish should be, and it works. We've hooked more than a dozen fish in the dark this summer."
The best bites have been when tides are moving. On outgoing tides pass crabs have been the best bait, while on incoming tides large threadfin or chumming dead bait seems to be most effective.
Perhaps the most important thing to having a night with a high number of bites is to remember that fighting tarpon for a long period of time is not good for the fish. Use heavier tackle, tighten down drags, and put the heat on -- especially when the bite is on. This will result in a quicker catch, healthier release to fish, or worst case scenario a break off and you're back to fishing again in no time. The first few minutes of a tarpon fight is the best, while the rest seems more like work.
The weeks ahead will see changing patterns for tarpon. As late summer approaches, schools of fish will head offshore for days at a time to spawn around the full moon. Others will move into the bay or start heading south. Some of the best nights I remember were when tarpon gorged themselves in preparation for the spawn, leaving all anglers with sore arms and high spirits.