Every May and June, sportsmen from all over the world travel to Boca Grande in pursuit of the silver king. Corporations gather their top accounts, and for many, their one and only chance in a lifetime to catch a tarpon.
We had decided it would be best to fish mid-week to avoid the traffic jam caused by trying to fit 100 boats in a pass made to handle no more than 30. We were wrong in thinking we had beaten the rush. Here we were starting our first drift watching a beautiful sunrise when we noticed we were joined by at least 70 other captains and their crew with the same thought in mind of hooking into a tarpon.
Every year tarpon makes a grand entrance into Boca Grande Pass. No one really knows for sure why they come, but some say it’s for the bountiful supply of baitfish the pass holds, while others believe it’s their starting point for the mating season. One thing is for sure; they are here and in great quantities.
We had teamed up with Capt. Scott Roe, a good friend and guide for the area who fishes for tarpon during the tarpon season and guides the backwaters of Charlotte Harbor the rest of the year. Capt. Scott had been keeping an eye for the best time for us to come down to tape one of our TV shows and we were ready to battle the silver king, a nickname for tarpon.
A typical tarpon trip is 6 hours, and you are basically fishing either an incoming or outgoing tide. The idea is to start your drift through the pass without interfering with other anglers and keeping your bait or jig just off the bottom. The pass has 2 major drops, and it’s the captain’s responsibility to give the command on when to raise or lower you baits, or you can kiss your tackle goodbye on the jagged wall and rocky bottom of the pass.
In the old days, the fishing lines were marked with red or blue colored yarn, each color representing a certain depth and the captain would yell, “lower your lines!” New reels on the market have a built-in digital line counter, and other after-market attachments are available for making life easier.
Making the best choice in the bait to use is like tossing a coin. Some captains like small silver dollar size pass crabs, while others like large shrimp or shad. Our choice is the jig, which is preferred by most captains for its effectiveness. Many of the local tournaments have even banned jig fishing due to its great success in catching fish. That’s a new one, when jigs are banned instead of live bait.
We could see several schools of tarpon rolling on the surface, while the ones down under were the ones feeding. After several drifts we finally had one on, and the battle began. Remember, you are in the middle of 70 or more boats with a leaping fish while trying to make your way to the outside of the pass trying to get away from the group.
Our fish proved to be a worthy opponent as he managed to tangle the line around the prop of another boat. Thanks to some quick thinking, the other captain was able to spin the prop while I released the line to keep it from cutting itself around the prop. The fight continued as now the fish made its way into the open gulf away from the maddening crowd. The next challenge was a bull shark, and this time Capt. Scott put the boat into tight turns around the tarpon hoping to spook the shark. It worked.
I prayed in a long time for this battle to be over soon, and my prayers were finally answered. After a 45-minute fight, a 165-pound silver king came along side. We took some quick pictures and released it to do battle another day. Capt. Scott Roe had done his job well. We had our fish and a great show to boot.