Saltwater Sportsman - - Float Plan / New Electronics -

Ris­ing wa­ter tem­per­a­ture drives tar­pon out of the Gulf of Mex­ico and onto Florida’s west coast by March, as early as Fe­bru­ary in some years.

“The magic num­ber for us is 72 de­grees,” says Capt. Ken Cham­bers, who guides the Ten Thou­sand Is­lands and Ever­glades Na­tional Park out of Good­land, Florida. “We see them first south of Chokolos­kee.”

In the early part of the sea­son, the fish come out of the Gulf in waves. The bays will fill up, then there will be an­other wave as they push through in big groups, spread­ing north­ward and fil­ter­ing through the bays and the back­coun­try.

Once the big num­bers of fish ar­rive, they spread out from Lost­man’s River all the way up the coast, on the out­side.

In gen­eral, this is the pat­tern for the en­tire mi­gra­tion, from mid-march through mid-june.


The big­gest schools of mov­ing fish are found 1 to 5 miles off­shore, in less than 15 feet of wa­ter. On calm days, they’re easy to see, rolling on the sur­face.

The best strat­egy for these tar­pon trav­el­ing down the Gulf Coast is to lo­cate them, po­si­tion the boat in their path, then wait for them to swim into cast­ing range.

“Tar­pon mov­ing on the out­side are hun­gry. They are the eas­i­est ones to catch,” says Cham­bers, “es­pe­cially early in the sea­son with live baits, such as threadfin her­ring or sar­dines.”

These same fish are eager tak­ers for lures also, when they are fresh in and haven’t seen a lot of boats yet. Cham­bers rec­om­mends soft-plas­tic baits like Zoom flukes and swim­baits, or ½-ounce buck­tail jigs. DOA’S Bait Buster, in white or glow, or an as­sort­ment of dif­fer­ent fly pat­terns work equally well.

“The first groups of fish you get on dur­ing the mi­gra­tion usu­ally pro­vide the best ac­tion due to lack of fish­ing pres­sure,” says Cham­bers.


The pre­ferred rig for the nec­es­sary gen­tle pre­sen­ta­tion on cast­ing tackle is a 60-pound fluoro­car­bon leader and a 4/0 or 5/0 cir­cle hook run hor­i­zon­tally through the nose of a weight­less live bait or lure.

Cham­bers’ game plan: Go out early and look for clean wa­ter, signs of bait, and rolling tar­pon in the chan­nels and rivers. When it’s calm, look on the out­side for schools mov­ing north.

“My fa­vorite fish­ing,” says Cham­bers, “is sight-cast­ing on the shoals in May. Set up on a sand­bar, over white bot­tom with the sun be­hind you, and let them run into you.

“Cape Ro­mano Shoals makes an ideal setup spot. You can fol­low miles of shoals south and find fish all the way.” — SWS Staff

MAN­GROVE COUNTRY: Tar­pon flood into the Ten Thou­sand Is­lands once wa­ter temps hit 72 de­grees.

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