Florida Tarpon Fishing

Tarpon gulping up glass minnows on the Bay -
By: Frank Sargeant

The biggest fish in Tampa Bay are spending all their time these days eating the littlest fish in the bay.

It’s like whales gulping down inch-long krill.

The masses of bay anchovies – a.k.a glass minnows – are so huge right now, the jumbo tarpon that prowl our waters can make a meal of them simply by rushing into the schools with their mouths open.

Captain Jason Prieto is one Bay area skipper who is homed in on this action, and I joined him and Jonathan Shute of Pirate’s Pointe Resort in Ruskin for a look last week.

We found a scene that would make a National Geographic special.

In the dark waters along the east shore of Tampa Bay, there are countless billions of glass minnows, so many in some areas that they turn acres of the water a rusty brown. The minnows are tiny, 1 to 2 inches long, but when the tarpon swarm around them, they can scoop up bucketfuls in their huge mouths with each attack on the massed bait.

The feeding often is at the surface, and the disturbance it creates can be seen for hundreds of yards. It appears as if a multi-limbed sea monster is surfacing, with giant heads and tails slamming the water in every direction.

The action can break out anywhere there are large schools of the minnows, which is pretty much anywhere in the bay at this point. Depths of 8 to 15 feet are most likely to hold the silver kings, which often show outside the shallow bar along the east side of the bay.

While the fish are fairly easy to spot once you are in the right area, getting them to bite is not. They are so focused on gulping down mouthfuls of the tiny minnows that they often ignore baits that are otherwise a sure thing, such as threadfins and scaled sardines.

Prieto uses two strategies when he gets into an area where fish are feeding.

One approach is to anchor and chum with the smallest scaled sardines he can cast-net, hoping to lure the tarpon into range and get it thinking sardines instead of glass minnows. He then drops a larger live sardine on the plate and the fish often eat it.

The second approach is to ease within range of feeding fish and toss a live bait in their midst just at the moment the frenzy peaks. This requires a lot of fish and a lot of presentations. The fish often pass up perfect casts with fat, silvery baits, but if you get enough shots, eventually you find one tarpon that will accept the larger food.

The latter approach worked on our day on the water.