It was an hour after dusk and the outgoing tide was cranking. We positioned ourselves up current, where to our delight we witnessed hungry tarpon aggressively feeding on the surface. We were surrounded. Expectedly, the starboard rod doubled over and the reel began to scream. In the distance we could barely see the silhouette of a large disturbance on the surface, though the presence of phosphorescence created an amazing show that we will not soon forget. Similar to the increased heart rate of the partygoers gyrating in Miami’s nearby nightclubs, we also felt the intoxicating effects of adrenaline rushing through our veins.
Across southeast Florida we are fortunate to have major inlets that provide routine thoroughfares for feeding tarpon.While the beaches, channels and holes near Port Everglades and Bakers Haulover are home to schooling ‘poon throughout the coming months, Miami’s Government Cut takes the cake when it comes to quality and consistency. This is likely due to the fact that nearby Biscayne Bay provides an ideal habitat for a variety of forage—shrimp in particular.
Fortified terminal gear partnered with brawny rods and bulletproof reels are essential when battling the almighty señor silver.
While making your way to Government Cut you’ll likely notice tarpon rolling around the McArthur Causeway, Venetian Causeway, Bayside Marina and nearly every venue in between. These areas certainly hold opportunities and it may be tempting to stop and soak a shrimp at any of the aforementioned areas, but do yourself a favor and keep the bow pointed for the inlet.
Keep in mind that if you plan on winning a battle with a mighty silver king you must be prepared for a marathon. Tarpon are incredibly strong adversaries and can leave you breathless after only a few jumps. Fortified terminal gear partnered with brawny rods and bulletproof reels are essential when battling the almighty señor silver. A 7-foot rod with oversized guides allows for easier casting when pitching shrimp down current into the strike zone. I also recommend a locking gimbal butt, as the fight may last longer than anticipated. Reels, whether spinning or conventional, must hold a minimum of 300 yards of 20 lb. monofilament. When chasing metro tarpon under the light of the moon my terminal tackle consists of a 5-foot section of 80 lb. monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, joined to the main line with a barrel swivel or line-to-line connection. I prefer to go the stealthy route and create a double line with a Bimini twist and attach the leader with an Albright or blood knot.
The use of circle-hooks is encouraged to promote conservation, but in all honesty I’ve increased my hook up ratio since I ditched J-hooks. When fished properly circle-hooks work great, as the closed design helps prevent feisty tarpon from throwing the hook on a jump. With shrimp on the menu you’ll want to select a thin wire hook that won’t interrupt the crustacean’s natural defense mechanism of skipping away.
When you’re ready to start fishing it’s critical you take note of the tide. Outgoing tides are ideal, with the last two hours primetime! Moon phase is worth taking note of, but mainly because it influences the velocity of the tide. A full moon enables tarpon to find forage easier, but as long as shrimp are present and the tide is honking the fish are going to feed. It’s just a matter of pinpointing the action. I like to start my search near the south or north jetties of Government Cut. Sometimes the fish will be tight along the jetties while other nights they will be more scattered. I’ve even had great success on the south side of the south jetty outside of the inlet in about 20-feet of water.
While searching for cooperative tarpon it’s important you reach different levels of the water column. Many times hungry ‘poon will be aggressively feeding several feet below the surface. Your fish finder can help reveal the presence of fish feeding in the depths and split shots or small rubber core sinkers will help present offerings in the strike zone.
Just a few miles north at nearby Haulover Inlet it’s the same story. Tarpon gorge themselves on shrimp and crab during outgoing tides and anglers probing the bridge abutments and sandbars in the vicinity are often handsomely rewarded. A favorite tactic at Haulover is to set up just south of the inlet in about 20 feet and drift in toward the beach. If the tide begins to trickle and the action at the mouth of the inlet slows, now is the time to target area bridges and shadow lines. For this endeavor you’ll want to anchor up current of the selected bridge abutment and drift or cast a live shrimp into the shadow line. Here there’s no room for error, with intelligent tarpon trying their best to wrap around unforgiving pilings.
No matter where or how you choose to target South Florida’s winter tarpon you really can’t go wrong. And while the action during the winter shrimp run can be addictive, fishing these congested waters in the dark requires special attention. You must always be aware of boat traffic, channel markers, ledges, and prevalent sea conditions. Have fun, but be sure to stay in tune with your surroundings!