How to Fish for Tarpon in Tampa Bay with Ray Culver

Fishing for tarpon around Tampa Bay's beaches, bridges, and passes adds excitement to the experience. Along the beaches, especially during the tarpon migration, anglers often sight-cast to schools of tarpon cruising near the surface. The combination of clear waters and the thrill of seeing these massive fish make beach fishing a favorite.

Bridges and passes are strategic spots, where tarpon concentrate due to tidal currents and baitfish movements. Many anglers target these areas for the chance to hook into large tarpon. The challenge lies in presenting baits effectively in the moving water and navigating the structural elements. Experienced anglers often use live bait or artificial lures to entice tarpon in these dynamic environments, creating memorable battles against the backdrop of iconic structures like the Skyway Bridge.

Respecting fishing etiquette when targeting tarpon is crucial for a positive angling experience. If you spot a boat working a pod of tarpon, it's considerate to give them space. Either move down the beach to find your own pod or, if feasible, communicate with the angler already fishing. Coordinating efforts helps avoid spooking the fish and ensures that both parties can enjoy the opportunity without disrupting each other's fishing endeavors.

Effective communication, whether through hand signals or radio if available, allows anglers to work together harmoniously, enhancing the overall experience for everyone on the water. This etiquette fosters a sense of camaraderie among anglers and contributes to the sustainability of the fishery.

When working a school of tarpon alongside another boat, a strategic and considerate approach involves positioning your boat well ahead of the school. By doing so, you avoid spooking the tarpon and allow the other boat to smoothly move into a prime casting position without disturbing the fish.

This coordinated effort is especially crucial when tarpon are visibly feeding or cruising near the surface. By taking turns and respecting each other's space, both boats increase their chances of presenting baits or lures effectively to the tarpon. Clear communication, either through hand signals or radio, helps synchronize movements, ensuring a shared opportunity to target the school without causing unnecessary disruptions.

Catching tarpon often involves employing various techniques tailored to the specific conditions and preferences of the angler. Here are some commonly used methods:

1. **Live Bait Fishing:** Using live bait, such as mullet or crabs, is a classic and effective approach. Anglers often fish these baits under a float or free-lined, allowing the bait to drift naturally in the current. Anchor up with a bouy rig so you can toss it or use a trolling motor to set up current from fish. Cut dead white bait works well too...

2. **Artificial Lures:** Tarpon can be enticed with a variety of artificial lures, including soft plastics, swimbaits, and topwater plugs. These lures mimic the movement of prey, and their selection depends on factors like water conditions and the tarpon's feeding. My favorite is the D.O.A. Bait buster swimbait tied with a loop knot. The loop knot allows the lure to swim freely and it will look more enticing to a fish that is eyeing it for a quick meal.

3. **Drift Fishing:** Drifting along tidal currents or over known tarpon hotspots with the right bait or lure can be effective. This technique allows anglers to cover more water and locate actively feeding tarpon. 

4. **Sight Casting:** When tarpon are visible near the surface, either cruising or rolling, sight casting becomes an exhilarating technique. Anglers carefully approach the fish and present their bait or lure with precision ahead of the school.

Adapting to the specific conditions, understanding tarpon behavior, and being versatile with techniques contribute to a successful tarpon fishing experience. Check your tide charts and look for the full and new moons for largest tidal flows. 

A lot of tarpon fishing is trail and error. Depending on water clarity, environment, and moon phases can affect how these fish are feeding. I like to have a rod rigged for everything. Some rods rigged with lighter leaders, longer leaders , one with a cork another rigged for free lining baits.

Stop by your favorite Salinity Gear retailer/tackle shop for more info and inside tips and tricks from the pros. 

Please keep fish in the water and revive them boat side before releasing them. 

Typically like to use between 40-50 lb braid
40-60 lb fluorocarbon as my leader
4/0-8/0 size circle hooks depending on the bait I’m throwing
LT custom 8’6” tarpon rod or Shimano teramar 8’ XXH
10k Saragossa

The biggest key to tarpon fishing is presentation. You want your presentation of the bait or artificial bait to be as natural as possible.

Article by Captain Ray Culver at

Cell: 239-963-7417