With the sweltering summer season once again upon us, you’ve undoubtedly had your fair share of sunburns and strikeouts. Record temperatures definitely make for challenging conditions, so this summer beat the heat by targeting monster megalops under the cover of darkness. Powerful predators with oversized eyes, tarpon flourish in low-light conditions and can be seen rolling along the surface as they hone in on offerings worthy of further investigation. Tarpon bust through schools of baitfish during all hours of the day, although they feed with no remorse once the sun dips below the horizon. Exhibiting an aggressive nocturnal feeding behavior, mighty silver kings can be found hovering around marinas, bridges, inlets, beaches and dock lights around the entire state.
Barely taking the outboard out of idle, Captain Robert Moore maneuvered his boat toward the Gilchrist Bridge carrying U.S. 41 over the Peace River between Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. Positioning his boat up-current from the crusty structure, Moore rigged a 7-foot medium-heavy spinning outfit loaded with 50lb. PowerPro and tipped with a 4-foot length of 60lb. monofilament leader. On a 5/0 circle-hook, Moore attached a 4-inch sardine and free-lined it toward the bridge. “We don’t have to go very far to catch tarpon at night,” explained Captain Moore. “Almost any bridge that features shadow lines, an abundance of bait and quality tidal flow will have tarpon feeding in the vicinity. See the shadows under the lights? Tarpon hide in the darkness and face into the current, patiently waiting to ambush forage that’s swept through the bridge pilings,” continued Moore.
Captain Mike Miller (www.fishngolfflorida.com) routinely scours the shadow lines of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay, but also finds tarpon off the beaches at night. Lights from condos, hotels and streets often cast enough illumination on the waters surface to attract inquisitive tarpon. “Off the beaches, there’s usually some light shining into the water out to about 100-yards. Find forage species in that zone and you’ll likely find tarpon,” Miller says. Tarpon fishing is highly dependent upon the lunar and tidal phases and during a full or new moon it’s much more advantageous to target tarpon at night than during the day.
On the East Coast, Cocoa Beach-based Captain Keith Kalbfleisch (www.capt-keith.com) enjoys targeting tarpon at Ponce and Sebastian Inlets. As Atlantic Ocean tides rush in and out of these constricted coastal openings, baitfish change locations and hungry tarpon follow suit. “Tidal flow stimulates feeding activity and when targeting inlets, I always like to fish an outgoing tide,” Kalbfleisch explained. “Tarpon stage in the current to feed upon whatever washes out with the tide, but they don’t really hang in the lights in these inlets. In Sebastian, tarpon sit in the rough current on the ocean side where a 1 or 2oz. Marabou jig fluttering in the current is deadly effective. In Ponce Inlet they stage to the south of the inlet between the bridges. The current is not nearly as fast there as in the main part of the channel and here I prefer to fish a whole mullet on the bottom.
Born and raised in South Florida, Captain Carlos Rodriguez is very familiar with nighttime tarpon fishing. “In South Florida we are fortunate to have a few major inlets that provide routine thoroughfares for feeding tarpon, however, Government Cut takes top honors when it comes to quality and consistency. This is likely due to the fact that Biscayne Bay provides ideal habitat for a variety of forage.” In this venue reaching different levels of the water column plays a major role in locating actively feeding fish. Many times anglers won’t even know that a feeding frenzy is occurring several feet below the surface. Go the extra mile to cover all of the basis when targeting fish in different levels of the water column by utilizing split shots or rubber core sinkers.
Down in the Keys, anglers are overwhelmed with quality tarpon venues. “Key West has great tarpon fishing at night,” says Captain Mike Weinhofer (www.fishnkw.com). “During the day we can’t really fish around the docks or harbor due to the barrage of boat traffic. There’s a lot less pressure at night and as a result we can get much closer without the fish spooking.” While Key West holds many anglers’ ticket to success, the Seven-Mile and Bahia Honda Bridges are the epicenter of Florida Keys tarpon action. While dangling a live bait under a floating cork may tempt monsters, tossing a soft plastic, suspending topwater plug, or surface popper will also produce enthralling action. “I’ve found that purple/black plugs work well when the moon is bright, along with any plug that resembles a mullet or ballyhoo. On darker evenings, chartreuse, pink, red/white patterns seem to draw the most attention.”
Whether fishing bridges, docks, beaches or inlets, chasing silver kings under the stars can make for an enjoyable experience—it could even produce the fish of a lifetime.