New Pass Night Time Tarpon

Written by Ryan S.

June 2014 was only about 20 minutes old when the first tarpon of the season decided to eat a half of a ladyfish dancing around on the bottom of New Pass in Bonita Springs. The initial plan was to take out my buddy Mike on my old 15 foot skiff and do some shark fishing around the beaches, but we generally were set up for any big fish that wanted to wander on by--shark, grouper, monster snook, or even tarpon.

As the sun set, we put the boat in the water and started cruising the beaches looking for bait or rolling tarpon, but after a quick run down south of Big Hickory the search turned up empty. As the last of the purple twilight faded beyond the horizon, a large school of fish splashing around caught our attention as we reentered New Pass from the Gulf. Mullet would have been perfect bait for what we were trying to accomplish, but we were pleasantly surprised and equally pleased when a throw of the cast net produced a ladyfish. We let that one go and started throwing lures so we could catch them the proper way. The DOA Shrimp failed, Bedonk-a-donk topwater failed, paddle tail and jerk bait failed, but the second we switched up to Gulp shrimp in new penny on a white jighead, we couldn't keep them off the hook. There were some huge ladyfish in that school and we had fun watching (and more often listening to) the acrobatics from these rangy and energetic fish. An hour later, we had caught upwards of 25 of them, and hooked into a lot more. We threw about 8 of them in the livewell so that we'd have some ammunition to move up the food chain. 


As the tide switched, we moved inside the pass closer to Dog Beach but still sitting in 12 feet of water. We weighted some big ol 7/0 circle hooks, halved the ladyfish, and let them float out behind the boat with the tide rushing in. It wasn't too long before one of the rods doubled over and started peeling off line. Unaware of any tarpon in the area, we had assumed it was a shark. Our hypothesis then was probably correct, because shortly after the initial rush, there was nothing on the end of the rod except a sliced line (we were only using 60lb flouro leader). We waited for another hour or so with a few more hard hits but no hookups, now putting us right on the edge of midnight. 

Remembering that big ol Hogy soft plastics had been working well at night for some folks seeking tarpon, I rigged up my light-medium setup with the closing thing I had, 7" Gulp jerkbait in electric chicken, to do some exploring. My first cast got absolutely smashed, and even with the drag tightened down pretty good, the fish on the other side had no problem screaming in the other direction. Caught by surprise, I never got a solid hook set, and a quick head shake dislodged the hook and left my heart pumping. It seems the tarpon are here. Mike followed suit, this time with a heavier set-up, and it wasn't long until he had a hook-up of his own. Before we knew what was happening, a 60lb silver missile was launching from the bottom of the sea, shooting straight up into the star filled sky, the faint light of the crescent moon flickering off it's silvery sides. It came down with a thundering crash as it slapped the water broadside. The line went slack, and Mike and I looked at each other with the rare combination of devastation and raw excitement. 

TarponWe kept casting around the boat and the pass hoping for another hookup, but the tarpon went sour on the idea of electric chicken. However, one was still interested in the ladyfish, and a few minutes later, a heavy rod in the back of the boat doubled over. Mike grabbed it and bowed masterfully to the silver king as it showed off it aerial prowess, hard fighting, and raw strength. From the looks and length of the battle, the fish was at least 200 lbs. We were stunned when we got our first up close glimpse and it was not quite 4 feet long and only in the 30 pound range. Being tarpon rookies, it was still the largest tarpon we'd ever gotten boatside, so it's possible our imaginations got a bit carried away. This tarpon was without a doubt a hard puller, however. As we got him near the boat for the 5th time, he took off with the strong current which had enough combined force to snap the stout rod in half. Not wanting this beauty to have to pull a busted rod around behind him for the remainder of his life, I grabbed a shirt and wrapped it around my hand and then grabbed the line, and manged to hand line the tarpon the last 10 yards to the side of the boat. A quick picture, a few high fives, and a safe release, and the king was off and running free, a little shaken up but no worse for the wear.  

I tried for a bit longer for one of my own, but nobody else wanted a free ride. We packed it in, still grinning from ear to ear, and made the short ride back to the ramp. Two new tarpon addicts born at 00:47, June 1st, 2014. 

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