Do you think Big Pine tarpon prefer dead bait as the amount of weeds washed up on shore deplete O2 which kills baitfish and feeds the tarpon on outgoing tides? Do you see this anywhere else? I've caught them from less than a pound to 100 pounds just soaking dead bait.
Thanks for the question. You have obviously fished around Big Pine a lot and have figured a few things out there. For those who haven't spent much time around this incredible area, it has a phenomenon not present in most of the rest of the Florida Keys. Especially in the calm summer conditions, a massive amount of floating grass collects in this area. It can be good for tarpon and other fish. The grass is not living anymore and begins to degrade.
There is a sulphur smell in a lot of areas and it seems like the rotting grass is an oxygen poor environment. Oxygen poor areas are perfect for tarpon as they can breathe through their gills but also by rolling on the surface. Tarpon can remain clear headed and operate as normal in very low oxygen because of this.
Your question as to whether they prefer dead bait over live bait is a good one and one that I could give an opinion but not a definitive answer. Even when I am catching fish regularly, I will never really know what they prefer or why they are doing the things they do. Rather, I look at what works and simply continue to do it. Of course, like all fishermen, I wonder and talk to others about these mysteries, but we will really never know for sure because they are fish and we are not.
This being said, you have found something that works and you should continue to do it. It is a logical correlation that poor oxygen levels in the water might offer the tarpon a lot of bead bait and that may be something that they are looking for regularly in that area. However, one other area that we probably catch more tarpon on dead bait than live bait is at Long Key Bridge. Long Key Bridge has the highest water flow of any of the 42 Florida Keys bridges and therefore the highest oxygen content in the water. Even at Long Key, dead bait works very well.
I don't know if they prefer dead bait up there either, but we get a lot of bites on it. This could mean that they prefer it, but it might also simply point to the conditions and the style of fishing. With the dead bait that we fish up there, we could simply be offering a bait that looks more natural to the fish in those conditions. It could be that with the high current flow that we are just offering the easiest meal.
Tarpon, like all fish, are survivors. They do not waste energy for fun like humans do. They are constantly conserving energy and using it only to gain the maximum calorie return. This is how they survive. They will go for the easiest meal as long as it is presented naturally.
Kudos to you for figuring out the dead bait strategy. Most tarpon fishermen never even consider it. Now you have one more tool in your box that is effective for tarpon. I promise that it is not just effective in the Big Pine area. Try your strategy in other areas as well especially when tarpon act like they dont want to bite.
All the best
Here is a show we shot in the Big Pine area. I hope you enjoy it. Keep in touch and send us a picture of those big tarpon!
and part 2
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