Fish Behvior - Tarpon

SHELLFISHSHELLFISH Posts: 95 Greenhorn
I went over to Buena Vista Park fishing docks In New Smyrna Beach to check out the high tide water level before the coming hurricane Irma. It was about 2 feet above a normal high tide.



While there I saw two fishermen at the end of the dock casting as if there was urgency in their casting.

I walked down to the end and noticed Tarpon; a lot of Tarpon!

I saw a bunch of 4 -5 foot Tarpon "playing" in the fast incoming river water. They would swim to the surface so the top of their head and tail were out of the water along with their dorsal fin. Then arch their sides to catch the incoming water and ride it until they sank down out of sight. They would soon reappear at the surface and repeat their behavior and resultant river ride! I have never seen that before or heard about it. There were two fishermen there trying to catch one without luck. I probably saw 40 to 50 Tarpon but you could see the dorsal fins across the entire river. I would estimate several hundred?

Very interesting behavior indeed! Has anyone ever heard or seen a similar behavior?


What did you do during the hurricane? I watched Tarpon playing in the surf! Only in Florida!

Replies

  • lemaymiamilemaymiami Posts: 2,788 Captain
    If they were holding in moving current (particularly near the mouth of a river, creek, or canal...) they were holding right on the bottom facing into the current - feeding on whatever came their way. All that surfacing behavior (rolling is how most call it...) is simply each fish getting a gulp of air -then turning over and going straight down to the bottom. Tarpon have the ability to gulp air and hold it in their swim bladder - which functions like a primitive lung. They can live in waters with low oxygen content - and most of us that fish them look for that rolling behavior. No matter what you see them doing at the surface - they live on the bottom and won't move very far to come after a bait or lure so you have to slow down and figure out where you have to toss your gear so that it can sink deep enough to be noticed by the fish.... At least that's how I have my anglers do it in the 'Glades when we're fishing big (or small) tarpon holding in rivers that drain into the coast.

    Anyone casting right at rolling fish is looking for frustration since by the time the lure sinks to where the fish are holding.. it's long passed them by... You have to lead them (I tell my anglers to cast across any current past the fish then allow whatever lure or plug we're using to sink down near the bottom before they ever start working the lure.. We do similar things with flies - but that's a different story entirely....

    Hope this helps. Tarpon are pretty much my favorites day in and day out.... Whenever the Park re-opens after Irma - that's where I'll be out of Flamingo - chasing silver....
    Tight Lines
    Bob LeMay
    (954) 435-5666
  • farside88farside88 Posts: 469 Deckhand
    Yes and no to the above.
    Tarpon roll to get air, but they also come to the surface to feed on flushed baits like crabs. Tossing a crab or bait to a rolling tarpon can be very effective, if they are feeding on top. Many times Ive fished for them in 60ft, but use a cork because they are only biting in the first 2ft.
    If they are feeding on bottom than you need to get the bait down to them, using either a jighead or a breakaway weight on copper wire. Breakway gets expensive but also keeps the weight from swinging around and pulling the hook out, or hitting you.
  • SHELLFISHSHELLFISH Posts: 95 Greenhorn
    Thanks for the replies! Bob, They definitely were not holding their place in the water!
    During their behavior they were being flushed by the current 15 to 20 feet before they would sink down out of sight.
    Weather it was the same fish that reappeared at the surface or a different fish is unknown by me.

    The location of this behavior was about a mile south of Ponce Inlet in about 8 feet of water.
    I saw no indication of active feeding at the surface. I don't know what was going on below two or three feet.
  • BaitsnacherBaitsnacher Posts: 74 Greenhorn
    Thanks Bob here on my dock in the manatee river top water works
    Good but only at first light or at sunset.. They are small but fun
  • lemaymiamilemaymiami Posts: 2,788 Captain
    We do hammer rolling fish at the surface (all day long) but only in places with little or no current. When they're in a current things get a bit different.... they don't hold anywhere near the surface. At night, if you've got a nearby bridge with good street lights on it - those same fish will quit rolling and hold right at the surface in the shadows. My first introduction to the night scene was more than 45 years ago now... We still find those night fish under the same bridges all these years later....
    Tight Lines
    Bob LeMay
    (954) 435-5666
  • permit_mepermit_me Posts: 792 Officer
    i saw that once in the Keys, hundreds and hundreds of fish showing over a football field sized area. i was not sure if they were feeding or stage. Threw crab, pilchard, Doa jerk baits, terror eyes, etc... nada. (that might have been a worm hatch period...). Another Time I saw them in an inlet like that, hooked two and landed one (gulp shrimp and gulp swimming mullet). They were feeding on small baits that day.
    It seems when they feed like that they are most likely keying in on one bait type.
    Yeah Bob, still have vivid memories of fishing the glades with you last fall and watching Elijah land that nice Everglades tarpon...we spent a couple hours hours waiting for those fish to turn on and it was in the mouth of a creek with a good afternoon outgoing tide.
  • ClassicAQClassicAQ Posts: 10 Greenhorn
    lemaymiami wrote: »

    Anyone casting right at rolling fish is looking for frustration since by the time the lure sinks to where the fish are holding.. it's long passed them by... You have to lead them (I tell my anglers to cast across any current past the fish then allow whatever lure or plug we're using to sink down near the bottom before they ever start working the lure.. We do similar things with flies - but that's a different story entirely....

    I'm not doubting your methods, rather I'd say where you cast your baits is greatly influenced by where you are tarpon fishing. When casting to poons moving up and down beach in Boca Grande in May, June, and July...these fish will school and chain in 5ft of water, but mostly found in depths 12ft-20ft. And if you can hit'em on the head with a crab as they roll you're in prime striking position. This is because you're not targeting a fish, you're targeting the entire school. Where one rolls and your bait follows, another will roll in the same spot moments later. Fishing the pass is different. Sure, you'll occasionally get an eater with a flatline out. But majority of the hook ups in the pass come from bottom baits.

    I'll beach fish for poons the same way in south pinellas. These fish move similar to how the BG beach fish move...up and down beach, in between the pass entrances. Toss baits right at'em. But if i'm fishing in hillsborough bay, it's a completely different method, because these fish school and feed completely different. They don't congregate in large schools, thus are more likely to spook when throwing baits on top of them. They stack up under Gandy bridge, but won't roll. They'll cruise the light line at night just under the surface. Definitely have to lead cast at such time cause they'll spoke. Then there are the fish near or up the hillsborough river. These SOBs are the most difficult to get to eat. Very spooky, and very picky eaters.

    So there are different methods of casting to fish for the many different areas where these amazing fish congregate.
  • TarponatorTarponator Under a BridgePosts: 9,611 Admiral
    ClassicAQ,

    Bob was talking about casting to fish holding in current, and not in the quiet and relatively tideless waters of the west coast beaches. What's more is that you'd catch more fish if you led the fish as he indicates even along the beaches (except perhaps if they are daisy chaining). As you said, different techniques are required for different areas, but just about all of them require leading fish, and he is dead on correct in suggesting what he did....particularly for the rookie he was talking to who is likely making the mistake most rookies make in casting too close to rolling fish and not leading them enough.

    Take care....Mike

    p.s. the fish do roll at the Gandy (and the HF and the CCC). Just not as much as elsewhere.
  • lemaymiamilemaymiami Posts: 2,788 Captain
    --One other minor point about silver... wherever you find them - they really, really don't like boat motors at all. Can't remember the number of times I've watched folks running on plane spot tarpon (after nearly scaring them to death...) then shutting down to cast at them... Then they'll wonder why the fish won't eat.... And of course if you're in fish and anyone runs through them, or just close to them... that's the end of things at that spot.... Another of those "ask me how I know" propositions....
    Tight Lines
    Bob LeMay
    (954) 435-5666
  • TarponatorTarponator Under a BridgePosts: 9,611 Admiral
    In certain areas they also have become attuned to the click, click, click of depth finders. ;)
  • lemaymiamilemaymiami Posts: 2,788 Captain
    Way back when... the big thing among club anglers (light tackle fanatics - more than one really great guide started out as a club angler years ago...) was winter fishing places like Government Cut that held lots of tarpon - down deep... Experienced guys always would locate the fish, wherever they were holding in the 40+ foot waters -then turn off their depth finders.... All these years later that same area is around 46 feet deep (commercial ports get dredged out every ten years or so...) but I'm still a believer in turning off my depth finder once I'm in fish... (couldn't hurt...).

    Way back then everyone tossed big Creek Chub Pikie plugs at them -- and if you hooked one that wouldn't jump - the advice was to break her off and find one you had a chance with....
    Tight Lines
    Bob LeMay
    (954) 435-5666
  • TarponatorTarponator Under a BridgePosts: 9,611 Admiral
    People often look at me with an odd look when I tell them about depth finders and tarpon when we're up under the bridges, then I turn it on and they see what the tarpon do as a result -- all of a sudden those fish meandering down the shadow line turn around and go back the other way as they approach the clicking. They generally don't question me again about it....
  • SUPER DSUPER D Posts: 636 Officer
    I fish close to the same area the OP is talking about. Most of the Tarpon I catch from 10 to over 100 pounds are feeding on the bottom , in water from 10 to 20 feet deep. There is no problem telling when they are eating on top, due to the large holes they leave in the water, more like a cinder block falling from bridge. Most I catch are on 3/8 or 1/2 once Jig heads with white flukes. They only seem feed on top when lots of bait moves through. Then I will throw a fly at them, but they still eat better on the bottom. I only get them to eat while it's still dark, once it starts to get light I go looking for big fish with a fly rod in 3 to 6 feet of water. Some of these fish are moving, but most are on the bottom within 10 or so feet of the roll point facing the current. I agree with the fish finder deel, when I can't seem to get in casting range, fish rolling just out of range I look to find I left it on.
  • Dardude6Dardude6 Posts: 20 Greenhorn
    Can agree with some of what you said, but I'm not sure if they go completely down when after they roll. If I see a tarpon roll usually I lay a fly or lure right in the vicinity of where they rolled and sometimes they'll blow up/surface on the lure/fly. I think the tarpon that are rolling continue to stay by the surface. While those laid up on the bottom stay at the bottom for some time. I'm by no means an expert though so if anyone has any countering information I'd be interested to hear.
  • Dardude6Dardude6 Posts: 20 Greenhorn
    lemaymiami wrote: »
    If they were holding in moving current (particularly near the mouth of a river, creek, or canal...) they were holding right on the bottom facing into the current - feeding on whatever came their way. All that surfacing behavior (rolling is how most call it...) is simply each fish getting a gulp of air -then turning over and going straight down to the bottom. Tarpon have the ability to gulp air and hold it in their swim bladder - which functions like a primitive lung. They can live in waters with low oxygen content - and most of us that fish them look for that rolling behavior. No matter what you see them doing at the surface - they live on the bottom and won't move very far to come after a bait or lure so you have to slow down and figure out where you have to toss your gear so that it can sink deep enough to be noticed by the fish.... At least that's how I have my anglers do it in the 'Glades when we're fishing big (or small) tarpon holding in rivers that drain into the coast.

    Anyone casting right at rolling fish is looking for frustration since by the time the lure sinks to where the fish are holding.. it's long passed them by... You have to lead them (I tell my anglers to cast across any current past the fish then allow whatever lure or plug we're using to sink down near the bottom before they ever start working the lure.. We do similar things with flies - but that's a different story entirely....

    Hope this helps. Tarpon are pretty much my favorites day in and day out.... Whenever the Park re-opens after Irma - that's where I'll be out of Flamingo - chasing silver....

    The post I replied to above^.
  • TarponatorTarponator Under a BridgePosts: 9,611 Admiral
    There are very few circumstances that tarpon stay near the surface, in my experience. I can really only think of three....

    Fish running shadow lines around bridges.
    Fish eating in a flush-type effect (like a crab flush) or other eating event (worm hatch or mullet run).
    Laid up fish that are resting in relatively shallow water -- generally loners early or late in the season.

    In the first two examples, these are actively eating fish -- and if the fish being described by the OP were doing that, he'd in all likelihood know. Tarpon are not subtle when they eat near the surface, they blow up on baits from below.

    What laid up fish are doing has always been a mystery to me -- perhaps getting warm in the sun or just being lazy.

    In all other circumstances tarpon tend to stay away from the surface except to roll. They are generally found in the bottom half of the water column just as Capt. Lemay has described.

    What makes you think they are staying near the top? That you get an occasional hit by casting near them?
  • lemaymiamilemaymiami Posts: 2,788 Captain
    We fish a bunch of laid up fish in late winter inside Whitewater and other interior bays in the Everglades. These are fish that come up inside simply because the water is warmer than the Gulf waters they were in... and of course the moment the water temps drop - they disappear back into the Gulf. Laid ups can be fish with their chins right on the bottom in less than five feet of water or they might be floating right at the surface with the tips of dorsal and tail fins showing (to see, at first light a half inch of fin that quivers or moves slightly in dark waters ahead of you is a hoot - you'll never forget it...). I figure they're relaxing - even dozing when we find them laid up. They aren't going anywhere except to rise occasionally for a small gulp of air. The really tough part in the dark waters of the 'Glades is just seeing them (then figuring out which is the end that bites...). I tell my anglers that they're just like dragons (that are supposed to sleep with one eye open at all times...). They're not looking to feed - but get a fly or lure close to one and the fish might just come to life... These are big fish (and at times are big, big fish...) and they show up before anyone in the Keys gets a shot at one each winter (depending on the weather - it just has to be warm enough). Laid ups are very lazy and we generally find them in places where they're sheltered from the wind - particularly in places where no boats are running to disturb them. Many days they're so hard to see that you only get one shot - and the fish is within 30 to 40 feet if it's on the bottom - when they're "floating" we can see them much farther away (and pray the fish stays up as we pole into position....).

    Laid up fish also occur regularly in the Keys - but folks down there won't talk about them much... In the 'glades there are quite a few places you might find laid up fish - when the conditions are right - but mostly in the late winter or early spring...
    Tight Lines
    Bob LeMay
    (954) 435-5666
  • TarponatorTarponator Under a BridgePosts: 9,611 Admiral
    Thanks for that, Capt. Lemay.

    For what it's worth, I haven't had the opportunity to fish laid up fish down your way. The one time we tried to find them in the winter I was unsuccessful. Maybe someday I'll get another opportunity down there, but we see them occasionally up here in Tampa Bay and almost exclusively when the water is relatively cold early in the season...and I know what you mean by "hoot -- you'll never forget it". :)

    Take care...Mike

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