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Tarpon: The Peak Season Starts and ends July 31

In February the big tarpon start to show up in the channels, and we are almost exclusively fishing for them every day.  Last year we caught 54 tarpon in the first 10 days of March.  One day we caught 9 tarpon, another 8 tarpon, and on March 6 we caught 7 tarpon. On March 4 we had 21 tarpon eat the baits, hooked 8 and only caught 2.

In the last five seasons


Dream It! Live It!

 10 TARPON RELEASED in a DAY: On 2 different days

 9 TARPON RELEASED in a DAY: On 7 different days

 8 TARPON RELEASED in a DAY: On 13 different days

 7 TARPON RELEASED in a DAY: On 16 different days

 6 TARPON RELEASED in a DAY: On 20 different days

 AN INCREDIBLE DAY: Hooking 19 tarpon out of 30 tarpon

striking the baits and releasing 7 tarpon that day

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 2003 TARPON SEASON: Another phenomenal season

 328 tarpon released!

We caught them in 77  FULL DAYS OF FISHING. This was done live bait fishing the channels.

We averaged more than 4 tarpon released per FULL DAY of fishing.

This is hot fishing action, lots of strikes and fish jumped off. We averaged 9 tarpon “striking the baits” per day while “hooking and fighting” 6 tarpon a day, then catching 4 tarpon per full day. (1999 was better than this year. We averaged just about 5 tarpon released for 9 tarpon “hooked up” for 14 tarpon “striking baits” per day. Check past fish reports for details).

THESE ARE BIG TARPON: Chances for catching a big tarpon were great. Check out the percentages. 

(Check out the tarpon photo gallery too.)

    a.) Tarpon over 80 pounds: 63 % of the catch

    b.) Tarpon over 100 pounds: 32 % of the catch

    c.) Tarpon over 120 pounds: 16 % of the catch

    d.) Tarpon over 140 pounds: 5 % of the catch

    e.) Tarpon over 50 pounds: 85 % of the catch

Most often we are catching these fish in twenty minutes, even tarpon up to 175+ lbs.  How do you think we can catch 9 and 10 fish in a day? I teach you the technique to beat these fish, responsibly. That way the fish is in good health, and you are not totally whipped. Ready to catch another big, wild, jumping tarpon.  Sometimes a fish will take forty-five minutes or more, what can you do but slug it out. 

If a late season cold front comes through and puts the tarpon down for a day or two, we have three options for excellent fishing.  First, this is an ideal condition for sailfish fishing 3.5 miles off the Keys. While sailfishing we can catch: blackfin tuna, wahoo, kingfish, cobia, dolphin, mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper,  groupers, and barracudas etc. If it is too choppy for you, we can fish the inside patch reefs in 15 to 50 feet of water. We can either troll for grouper or anchor and chum for snapper (mutton, yellowtail,  mangrove, and hogfish), grouper (black, gag, red, and Nassau), mackerel (Spanish and cero), barracudas, and sharks. Or we can go out to the lee side of Florida Bay and fish for big sharks, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, red and gag grouper, and sea trout. These are great options for when a cold front comes through.


BILLFISH: This is a great time of year to sailfish with live bait. I have caught as many as 4 sailfish in a day and missed the 5th right at the boat after a long fight. We either kite fish with live baits or slow troll with live baits, depends on the conditions. Also if the conditions are right, we can look for tailing sailfish on the powder edge (a chalky water from the shallows up against the blue water). Here we spot a sailfish swimming down sea along the powder line, we turn the boat and cast a live bait right in front of them for the hook up.

If we get offshore on the humps for blackfin tuna, we have a shot at catching a blue marlin or white marlin. If we are out dolphin fishing we could catch a blue marlin, white marlin, or a sailfish at any time. My last year running a larger offshore charter boat here in Islamorada, we caught a 300 lbs. blue marlin which was the 112th blue or black marlin I released for clients.

If anyone can catch you a billfish, I can do it for you. I have released close to 900 billfish for clients, friends, family, and myself. That is 112 blue and black marlin, and over 750 sailfish (Atlantic and Pacific). Check out my fishing log highlights for the details.

BLACKFIN TUNA: This is a great time of year for big blackfin tunas (20 - 30+ lbs.) on the local humps offshore, but you got to be able to make the rough run unless it is calm. We could catch a half dozen or more in an hour or two. Believe me, two or three of these guys each will kick your butt on #20 lbs.

We also catch them occasionally while fishing for sailfish along the edge of the reef. Also big schools of little tunny come through, which fight just as hard.

KINGFISH: This is a staple sport fish in the keys. They are generally small (less than 20 lbs.), but fun on light tackle. They are in the same area as the sailfish. Occasionally 30+ pounders are caught.

COBIA: You can catch them tailing down sea while sailfish fishing, or hitching a ride along a whale shark. There are also spots inside the reef where you can find mud rays cruising across the big sand patches with cobias following them. They will also come up a chum line while bottom fishing, and you can catch the occasional one while kite fishing.  

WAHOO: They are along the reef and out deeper (200' to 400'). To target them it is best to troll in the deeper water, but we could catch one while sailfish fishing.

While we are fishing for dolphin, wahoo often accompany the dolphin under the floating debris. These fish are 10 to 30 lbs. typically.

PERMIT: Start to show up in March and April in big schools on the reef and wrecks, and we can catch 2 or 3 in an hour sometimes. These fish are 15 to 40 lbs.

SNAPPER AND GROUPERS: After a front the grouper fishing can be good, especially trolling for them along the reef and inside the reef. Anchoring and chumming after a front is also good for the snappers and a couple of grouper. You will catch more snappers than grouper this way.

They school up on he reefs and wrecks, and can really be fun. Big yellow tails, mangrove, and mutton snapper can just be great action. While you are fishing for snappers, groupers can be caught with big, live bait near the bottom. We catch blacks, gags, and Nassau grouper here.


BONEFISH: This is the best time of year to catch big bonefish (fat with row), and lots of them. No other place in the world has bonefish as big. Our fish average 8 – 10 lbs., and catching fish up to 13lbs. is almost common. A lot of 14 and 15 lbs. records are from Islamorada.

Let me tell you, an 8 – 10 lbs. bonefish is a completely different fish than a 2 – 4 pounder from the Bahamas or Central America. I am talking about our bonefish running 150 to 200 yards in 30 seconds, compared to a +40 yard run by the smaller bones, or a 20-minute fight compared to a 5-minute fight. I’ve caught those fish over there, and they are no comparison, almost boring after catching a few of those small fish.

They are here to spawn and we find lots of fish to cast at. If we find less than 100 bonefish to cast at, we have had a below than average day. Some days we have seen up to 300 bonefish.

This time of year we find lots of “tailing bonefish,” and we can find them all day long. If you really want to do something very exciting – that will put you on the edge – try hunting these guys with a fishing rod. (A couple of years ago, a client confessed that he had fished 5 days in the Bahamas and never saw a tailing bonefish, only cruising and mudding fish. What a shame.)

PERMIT: This is one of the best times of year to catch permit. We can find big schools of them right on the edges of the flats. Schools of 10, 20, 50 even 100 permit in a school on the flats, but typically we can see 75 permit in a day while we are bonefish fishing. (On two separate days I have seen up to one thousand permit, schools of 50 to 300 and big fish too.  I consider this very rare. Even seeing more than 150 in a day is uncommon.)

These fish average 30 to 15 lbs., and the largest we have caught was 39 ½ lbs.  Every year I see some very big permit in that +40 lbs. size. Any permit over 25 lbs. is a big permit.

I have caught quite a few permit on fly too, 5 here in Islamorada (9 total). If you want to catch a permit on fly, I can help you with the “nuances” of hooking a permit on fly.

BARRACUDAS AND SHARKS: The big barra cudas are still on the flats and are great fun to “sight cast” to, and when that big barra cuda attacks your lure 20 feet from the boat as you’re cranking it in, it’s a real jaw dropper! And in shallow water, they fight hard and jump well. These barra cudas are 15 to 30 pounds.

This is one of the best times of year to fish for sharks on the flats. Black tip sharks start to show up with the mullet runs. They are unbelievable jumpers and attack plugs ferociously. They are 50 to 150 lbs. Often you can see 4 or more sharks working a school of mullet. They also patrol certain flats waiting for the mullet schools.

Big bull sharks start to show up too, they are following the tarpon. They get into 2 feet of water some times. Imagine a +400 lbs. shark in there chasing your lure! 

Big lemon sharks are plentiful this time of year. They are fun to cast to and they fight very hard. We can catch them on bait or plugs, and fooling them on a big plug can be exciting. We can catch big ones on 30 lbs. spin (from 50 to 200 lbs.), or small ones on 10lbs. spin.

REDFISH: It is one of the best times of the year for redfish fishing. A couple of years ago we caught 62 reds in two days. We caught them “sight casting” on the flats and they were all 6 to 12 lbs., big reds for here.

As we “sight cast” to these redfish on the flats, I like to use artificial lures like jigs, soft baits, or plugs. Bait can be used, like shrimp or a shrimp tipped jig, but I do not find it necessary. Redfish are very aggressive once they see your lure, and will quite often hit your lure more than once if you do not get the hooks in him the first time. Keep your eye on the fish and lure, and strike him when he eats it, not when you feel him. A redfish can eat your lure with out you feeling it, by lunging forward and creating a moment of slack line then spitting it out.

SNOOK: As we are redfish fishing we come across snook often on the flats. They can be nice fish up to 12 lbs. They are also quite spooky, but if you get your lure in front of them before they spook hard, they will eat it. And what a nice run they make in shallow water, sometimes up to a hundred yards. Then they come up shaking their head and you pray: “don’t shake that hook, please just don’t shake that hook.” Sight catching a snook or two on the flats is always a nice bonus to a day of redfish fishing.