Nassau Sport Fishing Association

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Now’s the time to ‘jump’ tarpon

By Bob McNally

Origianally Posted Aug 13, 2016 courtesy of

It is a stunning revelation about how good this area can be fishing for arguably the greatest light-tackle gamefish on the planet.

One angler’s goal is to hook 300 tarpon this summer, and no one who hears about his dream is laughing because of the stellar success he’s already had this year.

Fernandina Beach Capt. Jim Johnson also has been into tarpon in a big way.  He has jumped up to 20 fish per day working waters off the St. Marys River and to the south near Nassau Sound. A dozen fish in a morning is not unusual.

And this action should only improve over the next few weeks as mullet mass for their migration south, and tarpon by the thousands pull out of sounds and rivers to begin their tidewater trek south as weather and water cools into autumn.

In truth, few fish are as powerful, leap as high, are as dogged to fight on rod and reel than tarpon. As a light-tackle gamefish, few others compare, and they can be caught on everything from modest spinning and plug tackle, flies, and live and dead baits with heavier gear.

One of my oldest fishing buddies from the Midwest was stunned after an incredible day of tarpon action when we caught 13 fish in a tackle-busting day we’ll never forget. He’s a well-known angler who lives to catch freshwater heavyweights like muskies and pike, lake trout and salmon. He was amazed, of course, of the size, power and jumping ability of 100-pound class tarpon. But most of all, he found it incredulous that 6-foot long fish would so readily slam bass-size plugs and streamer flies, and can be caught on tackle more suited to muskies than marlin.

Tarpon fishing in Northeast Florida is a warm weather game. The fish don’t arrive in abundance until late May (migrating in from the south) along the First Coast, and they usually are long gone by the end of October. Through that time fishing can be good along much of the coast from Matanzas Inlet north of Daytona Beach, to Fernandina Inlet.

But the hands down peak months for silver kings are August and September.

This a transition time in area waters, change is in the wind in Northeast Florida. Water temperatures begin cooling, bait pods from the Carolinas and Georgia start their autumn treks back south, and the first of fall’s coastal storms churn the Atlantic. The few days following a strong nor’easter, in fact, is a perfect time for peak area tarpon fishing, since storms “wash” huge populations of shrimp and mullet out of “nursery” coastal rivers, inlets and sounds, and with the shrimp and baitfish come hungry tarpon.

Simply stated, tarpon anglers in late August and September have good success because they are working for more fish than are available at other times of year. Tarpon are slowly migrating from north to south, and Northeast Florida anglers waylay them, as well as local fish pulling out of First Coast inshore waters.

Few Northeast Florida tarpon weigh under 30 pounds, 80- to 100-pounders are common, and fish to 150 pounds are caught every year.

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