March is when big tarpon show up in the Florida Keys. You can tell just by looking at all the flats and bay boats that cluster around the bridges that connect the island chain.
For many anglers, catching and releasing a tarpon is a bucket-list achievement, and no one knows that better than Capt. George Clark Jr.
“I don’t think there’s a better sport fish available, and the inshore fisherman on average can catch more big fish than the bluewater fisherman,” says Clark, of Key Largo, who kicks off the 7 o’clock hour on the Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show that airs from 6-8 a.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 940 Miami and live-streams on the Nautical Ventures Facebook page,. “The only way you’re going to top a 120- or 130-pound tarpon is a blue marlin or swordfish or yellowfin tuna.
“Every time you go, you have a chance to catch a fish that’s 100 pounds or bigger. Where can you consistently do that? I think that’s part of the mystique of tarpon fishing.”
Bridges and bridge channels provide lots of ambush spots for tarpon to pick off baitfish and crustaceans carried by the tide, so they’re great places to fish, but they have their challenges. Like when a big fish grabs your bait and decides to run toward the bridge.
When that happens, let the tarpon swim between the bridge pilings and keep the drag loose. If the fishing line rubs on the bridge it’s probably not going to break.
In extreme cases, some guides attach a life jacket to the fishing reel and toss the rod and reel in the water. They follow in their boats, retrieving the outfit when the tarpon is clear of the bridge and resuming the fight.
Anglers new to tarpon fishing can do well around bridges. In Islamorada, the Channel 2 and Channel 5 bridges are favorite locations. In the Marathon area, the Seven-Mile Bridge and Bahia Honda Bridge get a lot of tarpon traffic.
Clark fishes around bridges in Key Largo as well as in creeks and canals in Florida Bay and on oceanside flats.
Most anglers use live crabs around bridges and channels early in the morning and in the evening. During the day, the majority fish with live silver mullet.
Clark uses mullet and crabs, then switches to live pilchards later in the season, using medium-heavy spinning rods with 50-pound braided line and circle hooks.
For more fishing tips from Clark and other expert captins, listen to The Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show every Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. live on Fox Sports 940 Miami, an iHeart station. You’ll learn where the fish are biting and how to catch them. If you can’t tune in live, the Weekly Fisherman radio podcasts are available through:
https:// foxsports940.iheart.com/featured/weekly-fisherman/about/ (click on podcasts)
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