As we approach May, tarpon time nears

As we near the beginning of May, the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island are host to one of the most popular game fish in Florida.
Yes.
You guessed it.
Tarpon.
The silver king.
These notorious tackle-busters, take up residence along our local beaches and bays, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting bait schools and helpless crabs leisurely washing out of the passes on outgoing tides.
Although there are resident fish that live in our waters year-round most of them migrate here from southern waters and from the deep depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
In anticipation of spawning, these fish gather in our local waters with one thing in mind. And that one thing requires a lot of energy. Therefore, these fish are on the feed. Gathering in the passes and in the bays provides an ample supply of food such as crabs, shrimp and bait fish for these pre-spawn fish to forage on.
And that’s where we come into play.
Targeting these large game fish can be quite enjoyable for some, while for others it can become a complete obsession. Not only are they considered “big game” but I believe they also fall into the category of being a bucket list fish.
I can attest to this — having been a charter captain for the past 10 years.
A lot of my regular clients who typically target backcountry fish such a snook, redfish and trout have fancied catching the elusive tarpon. And after successfully hooking and landing one they were happy to go back to catch the smaller species on the flats.
On the flipside, I have also experienced anglers who once they have hooked into one of these majestic fish become addicted to it and lose interest with messing around with “small fish.”
The thrill of the hunt consumes them as they yearn for that fix of hooking into a fish that can weigh in excess of 150 pounds. The initial hook up followed by numerous leaps from the water and drag screaming run of 100 yards is a thrill that cannot be matched. And then settling in for the long fight ahead, drenched in sweat, arms shaking from the fatigue just to get a glimpse of a flash in the clear emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
“I see color,” they exclaim!
The fish is close, tired and ready to submit to being landed, and finally —sometimes after 45 minutes or more — the fish is at the surface ready for me to remove the hook from that large bony mouth.
And moment when you look into that large eye which seems to be examining you, analyzing you, just are to it. It’s as if you feel a moment of respect, remorse and nurturing mixed in with the exhilarating sensation of successfully entering this animal’s world, only to release it back to its habitat to flourish once again.
Bittersweet, but mostly sweet.
“OK fish, settle down. I’m just going to pull this big circle hook out of you and let you go.”
And with the boat in gear, I’ll hold that big fish along the boat for a while and gently flush some water through its gills.
Ahh, that’s better. Re-energized and ready to be released. After a successful release, a celebratory high five to the lucky angler who successfully completed this task, it’s time to cherish the moment, and motor back to the lineup to hook another one.
And if that doesn’t get you wanting to go tarpon fishing, I don’t know what will. You may want to stick to golf or whatever else that fills your passion. But for those of you who are intrigued, the month of May and June are prime time to tangle with some of these magnificent fish.
Just remember to practice proper etiquette on the water and most of all take great care in handling these gentle giants. Although they are big, they’re still delicate. Use proper gear that’s heavy enough to reel these fish in quickly as to put the least amount of stress on them that is possible. Try not to lift them out of the water when dehooking them and always try to revive them as best as you can before setting them loose. Exhausted tarpon are prime target for large bull and hammerhead sharks and can typically fall prey to these predators if not fully revived once released.
And the crowds. Don’t forget about the crowds of boats you will encounter when targeting tarpon. This is especially apparent when fishing the passes. Use your best judgment on being courteous to other anglers. We all catch more fish when we work together and respect each other.

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