No argument. Tarpon are the ultimate inshore catch for any angler. The big silver fish is hard to fool, impossible to hook and a bear to fight.

Hobie team member Brandon Barton (www.emeraldwaterskayakcharters.com) guides clients to epic tarpon catches around Pensacola, Florida. “Tarpon will test your gear and find every weakness,” he says.

The Sunshine State is tarpon central, but anglers from Texas to Virginia could learn from Barton’s experience. Here are a few trade secrets to even the odds of beating the ultimate sportfish.

  1. Target tarpon May to September, when the fish are migrating along the Gulf Coast.
  2. Calm winds and flat seas are best. Overcast sky helps reduce glare making it easier to spot tarpon rolling with their backs out of the water. Troll parallel to the beach, just past the second bar, looking for fish.
  3. A seven-foot, heavy rod, like Bull Bay’s Brute Force, is light for long casts with a heavy backbone. Choose a rod with a rounded gimble to dig the rod butt into your stomach for more leverage. Keep the fight short, 20 minutes or less, to preserve the fish’s energy.
  4. A Penn Slammer 5000 to 6000 reel can produce 40 pounds of drag to hold a lunging tarpon. Spool with 65-pound braided line. Use an FG knot to add a six-foot leader of 80-pound fluorocarbon.
  5. Hook choice is critical. A 6/0 to 8/0 Owner Multi Light hook will find its way into the corner of a tarpon’s bony mouth.
  6. Top baits are live menhaden, thread-fin herring, mullet, cigar minnows or Atlantic bumpers. Hook the bait through the nose or the top of the head.
  7. Slow troll fast enough to stay ahead of the swimming baits. When I see a tarpon roll, I cast a live bait in front of the swirl. If I don’t get a bite, I pedal ahead of the school and cast again.
  8. When you feel the tarpon coming to the surface to jump, lower the rod tip to put slack in the line to keep the fish from throwing the hook.
  9. Cast large swimbaits like Hogy Protail or the Live Target Spanish Sardine at rolling tarpon. Attach the lure with a Kreh loop knot to improve the lure’s action.
  10. Fight the fish with the rod tip low to keep the tarpon from coming to the surface to gulp air. Each gulp prolongs the fight.
  11. When the fish gets tired, grab the line with one hand and the tarpon’s lower jaw with the other. Wear fishing gloves to protect against the tarpon’s rough mouth. Do not remove the tarpon from the water. In Florida, tarpon over 40 inches long must remain in the water.

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