"In the “Tarpon Capital of the World,” opportunities to catch these big fish are plentiful."
Welcome to the “Tarpon Capital of the World.” Tarpon is one of the most sought-after fish in the world, and the Fort Myers-Sanibel area experiences one of the world's largest tarpon migrations. From Boca Grande Pass to the reefs off of Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach, tarpon migrate by the thousands during April, May and June.
Tarpon fishermen head to the pass in the spring, when there are numerous tournaments. Most anglers fishing the pass are recreational fishermen, and most hire a fishing guide who provides the boat, equipment, bait, knowledge and a fishing license to pursue the much-sought-after 150- to 200-pound giants.
Although little is known about the tarpon, this prehistoric animal is considered one of the most interesting creatures in the world. The tarpon is the only fish with an air bladder, which allows it to breathe air from the surface.
Mature tarpon have been documented at eight feet long and weighing more than 350 pounds. The average tarpon found off of Boca Grande weighs 50 to 85 pounds, with numerous fish well over 100 pounds. Some catches weighing more than 200 pounds have occurred around the pass. Tarpon can live up to 55 years.
Catch and Release
In 1989, Florida implemented a tarpon program that charges a $50 fee to kill a tarpon. Since tarpon can take 50-plus years to grow to 150 pounds, and because they’re not an edible fish, catch and release is clearly the only way to go.
Bait and Tackle
Anglers should use rods preferably in the 6-8 foot range with either rollerized or ceramic guides. Fishing reels such as the 3/0 and 4/0 Penn models are popular. Reels should have a good drag system and be wound with 50-80 pound Dacron line. Swivels should be the 5/0 size, and leaders should be 10-12 feet long with a rating of about 70 pounds. In the pass, four standard live baits are used: squirrel fish, mutton minnows, crabs and shrimp.
Fishing Boca Grande Pass
Tarpon generally congregate in the deepest areas of the pass. The Boca Grande Hole is about 100 yards wide by 350 yards long. A smaller hole, called the Coast Guard Hole, is closer to the beach. The holes are 65-70 feet deep, and the remainder of the pass is about 40 feet deep.
Boat Operation in the Pass
Boat traffic in Boca Grande Pass is very heavy, and enthusiasts who are not aware of the established procedures for boat operation can create unsafe and frustrating conditions. We suggest you hire a fishing guide for an enjoyable day of fishing. If you must use your own boat, follow these guidelines.
Drifting the pass requires a team effort. Keep your engine(s) running at all times. Try to keep your boat in line with the current, not sideways. Unless your boat is keeled, you will probably have the best luck drifting stern to the wind. When you have completed a drift, move back to the head of the drift by going outside the pack at a rate of speed that does not create a lot of wake or noise. Don’t move back up through the pack. And don’t anchor in the pass. It's dangerous, and it's a major inconvenience to those drifting. Anchored boats have been sucked under on hard outgoing tides (tides of 4 to 6 knots are standard).