The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!




by Herb Allen
Spring 1996



Catching tarpon is a gamble everywhere with the possible exception of Boca Grande, Florida, from late spring through July.

Depending upon weather conditions, silver kings usually begin showing up in Boca Grand Pass in late March or early April, and are often caught in limited numbers well into October.

Between May 1, and July 31, however, nowhere in the world are bruisers more plentiful and cooperative that at Boca Grande.

In more than 100 trips to this spot (ranging in length from one to six days) during the past two or so decades, there were several instances in which three or four of us jumped more than 100 tarpon on just two tides.

Only once in 25 years did I go down in flames, and that was a few days following the passage of the 1982 "No Name Hurricane" which suddenly and without warning blasted into the settlement of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Isnad with winds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

Boca Grande Pass is probably closest to a tarpon sure thing as you're likely to find, and if Lost Wages odds-makers were to create a betting line, it would probably read something lie "1-10."

Located between Ft. Myers and Sarasota, this fish-filled honey hole, which connects Charlotte harbor and the Gulf of Mexico, anglers will often see 100 or more boats ranging in size from 12-foot jonboats to 75-foot yachts drifting through Boca Grande Pass on an incoming or outgoing tide.

Aboard each boat, Waltonians will be fishing with a variety of tackle ranging from spinning outfits to heavy-duty boat rods equipped with 6/0 star drag reels and 80-lb. test line.

They'll also be employing a vast selection of lures and baits ranging from bottom-bumping jigs, crankbaits, surface plugs and spoons, to pinfish, pass crabs, squirrelfish, jumbo shrimp, and a potpourri of other live offerings that are swept through the mile-wide pass on a fast-moving current. Even flyrodders using streamers or noisy poppers frequent the area.

With ledges in the pass dropping from 40 to 74-foot depths, the trick to wontedly successful tarpon encounters is to place your bait or lure where the majority of fish hang out.

Though an angler may see hundreds of silver-sided gamesters rolling on the surface or busting baits, a recording fathometer will pinpoint literally thousand of fish stacked from bottom to mid-level areas.

Many native guides who specialize in pass waters use a throw-off weight attached to a line a foot or two above the bait.

These cigar-shaped baits weights, scaling from four to eight ounces and have a lead or copper wire extending form both ends which wrap around the line.

The idea here is that when a tarpon strikes and bursts releasing the weight and leaving the angler with nothing but a fishing line between his reel and finny foe.

Cotee Industries, a Florida based lure manufacturer was an early pioneer in the introduction of lures designed for deep jigging.

So far as is known, deep jigging was first introduced to Boca Grande Pass in 1973 when Vic Dunaway, Lefty Kreh, and I encountered a slow period while fishing "conventionally" and began experimenting by lowering a 2-ounce jig with a large, 3-inch florescent pink plastic tail to the depths.

No sooner did the rig hit bottom than we were fast to rampaging silver kings in the 80-pound class. During the next two hours we jumped more than three dozen fish while others in the pass fleet drew blanks.

Knowing a winner when it slaps me along side of the head, and with help form guys like Charlie Cleveland, we began to modify and improve on the technique.

Through trial and error, we discovered that a 1-1/2 or 2-ounce head was usually of sufficient heft to easily reach the Boca Grande abyss during normal tidal flows. When a tide current is racing as it frequently does in this area of the Gulf, a 4-ounce head is advised.

Medium-weight and medium-action rods, either spinning or baitcasting, with 12 to 17-pound test line, is preferred by many. Cleveland recommends the use of 24 inches of 30 to 40-lb. test leader material between the line and lure, while I prefer tying a jib directly to a line in the theory that even though I'm occasionally cut off, I'll get more strikes minus a leader. We both agree that steal leaders significantly lower strike frequency.

After several years of experimentation, we've discovered that various shades of green/chartreuse plastic tails are the tickets to fast tarpon action in these depths, often by a ratio of 4 to 1 over other colors.

While drifting the boat-filled pass, it's better and usually more productive to simply to fish vertically over a craft's side.

Unless waters are unusually rough, a bass boat or open sportfisherman is adequate, and there's no need to purchase a ton of equipment since gear being used for such fish as kings, reds and snook is adequate.

Most Boca Grande tarpon range in weight from 50 to 80 pounds, while heart-stoppers scaling on the plus side of 100 pounds, up to 130 and 150, are not uncommon.

Except in extreme rainy or hurricane conditions, tip-top tarpon activity has been steady since the late 1800's when such people as John Jacob Astor, Barron Collier, Henry DuPont, Frank Crowninsheld and J. P. Morgan established winter homes on Gasparilla Island, a seven-mile stretch of sand named for a pair of notorious pirates, Jose and Leon Gaspar.

The village of Boca Grande was born shortly after a wooden light house was erected on the southern tip of 'Gasparilla Island in 1880. Phosphate from the Peace River and the Arcadia area was brought to the town by barge and loaded onto three and four-masted schooners for shipment elsewhere.

Gasparilla Island was first linked to the mainland in 1909 when the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad Company put down rails leading to the natural, deep-water port. It continued to be phosphate shipping center until the late 1970's when the loading dock was closed and its rails removed.

A toll bridge connecting the island with the mainland was constructed by Bert Cole in 1958, retiring a ferryboat service that had operated for 50 years. Cole's creation remains the only privately-owned toll bridge still operating in Florida.

Historical accounts tell us that only 15 permanent residents lived on Gasparilla Island in 1900. Today, there are about 2,000 in residence on a year-round basis and perhaps twice that number who have built homes or purchased condos for part-time usage.

With today's $50 Florida permit in effect to keep a tarpon, most everyone release their fish and, since Boca Grande has been the world's hottest tarpon hole for more than 100 years, this could assure that it will remain so for another century.

Anglers wanting more information about guides, lodging and meals at Boca Grande can contact the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, P.O. Box 676, Boca Grande, FL 33921.
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