Tarpon on the beaches
By Doug Stamper
October is upon us, and so we begin the gradual transition from hot to the beautiful "this is why we live in Southwest Florida" weather. Traditionally October is the first month when we finally see daily high temperatures that aren't in the 90’s. This turn of events rings the dinner bell for those pelagic and local species to fatten up as they migrate south, or for some species, the last few months of easy pickings in their hometown.
Tarpon traditionally make their way here along the beaches following massive schools of threadfin herring both this month and the next. Cobia, kingfish, bonito, and even tripletail will be on the move while getting fat on the buffet of baits moving south. If you fish offshore and nearshore during this time frame, pay attention to what you're passing, as you’ll see many of these species crashing baits within the first few miles of shore. The good thing for those that find these pushes of fish, is that when we don’t receive any real cold fronts from up North, often the massive schools of bait will stick around -- and so do those fish. To give an example, last year we had amazing fishing all the way through December, as no true cold fronts pushed South of Tampa till the first week of January. The year before was pretty much the same scenario; easy fishing was over mid-November, with spurts of awesome until our first true cold front arrived.
Fishing for reds in October can be fantastically ridiculous at times. Fish school up in great numbers and often you’ll see them pushing a wall of water ahead of them. Look for pushes of water, and then work fast to get baits in front of them, it’s that simple. You’ll also find massive schools of jacks and occasionally snook pushing water as well, not a bad bycatch. Topwater, jerk baits, live bait, and old school popping cork techniques will all work excellent. Redfish are consistent throughout the month and, as the tides move in, will be found up tight to the mangroves, versus along the edges of bars and flats during the lower tides.
Trout will continue to get bigger in size and often eat baits meant for redfish during this time. Most trout will be found along the grassy edges in water as deep as 4 feet, but the big ones are usually up on the same flats as the redfish.
Snook fishing begins to transition to the backcountry areas in October, but that too can be on a delay depending on our water temperatures and the first “cool fronts." The rivers and creeks can see snook of all sizes this time of the year and, depending on water quality, you can often sight-cast to these fish. When trying to locate schools of snook, occasionally throwing out some "freebies" of live bait can give away their hiding spot.
You’ll have to experiment a bit with line, leader, and rod sizes to figure out what works best for the fish you’ve found. I like to start with 2/0 circle hooks and 30# leader on a medium heavy fast action rod. However, when a big snook in the 35” plus size range gets a hold of your line, it may not be enough. These are good problems to have though so I bring at least one other rod as my upgrade, and usually it’s a tarpon rod with at least 40# leader and a 3/0 circle hook since we all know exactly what that snook is going to do when it feels that hook!
Tight lines, Capt Greg Stamper