Big Texas tarpon adventure

Tarpon fishing along much of the Gulf Coast usually comes to life in June and gets better as we head in the hot months of August and September. Many are caught in October, or until the cool fronts begin to chill the water. In fact, the Texas state record tarpon was caught on Oct 4, 2006.

So where is the best place to fish for tarpon along the Gulf Coast? Based on personnel experience, you can’t go wrong out of Venice, La. Along the Texas coast, tarpon fishing can be pretty darned good from the Sabine jetties and on down the coast around Port O’Connor.

One of the heaviest tarpon ever caught out of Sabine was back in July 1997. That’s where Lufkin angler Jerry Blackmon caught a silver king weighing an estimated 200 pounds. That monster ’poon was caught on a free-lined pogie about 32 miles southeast of the Sabine jetties.

One of the greatest days of Texas tarpon fishing was back in 1995 on Labor Day. That’s when Capt. Jim Leavelle jumped seven and caught five. Capt. Dana Bailey jumped 14 and caught five. And Capt. James Plaag jumped 20, leadered eight and broke off four. Tarpon fishing doesn’t get better than that anywhere on earth. Those are Galveston based guides. But guess where they were fishing on this spectacular day? How about the short rigs out of Sabine Pass. It goes without saying that some of the best tarpon fishing you’ll find is on the upper Texas coast.

Mobile is a key word when hunting Texas tarpon. You’ve got to stay on the move. The first tarpon I ever jumped was at the Port O’Connor jetties. That was in 1973. Since that time, I’ve caught them while fishing out of Venice, La., Sabine, Port O’Connor and on down to the South Padre jetties. Heading farther south, I’ve had some classic battles with fly fished tarpon at places like the Yucatan, Campeche, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and out of Belize. But for numbers of big tarpon, I don’t think the action gets any better than what you’ll find along the Texas coast from now through October.

My best day so far this summer was 23 shots at tarpon up to about 130 pounds while fishing the area of water from the Port O’Connor jetties and on over to Pass Cavallo, a few miles east of the POC jetties.

Great tarpon guides along the Texas coast all have their favorite options for baits. Many use fresh dead baits like shad, mullet, sand trout or pogies. Most of the time those baits are rigged on 14/0 to 16/0 circle hooks. A live mullet is excellent tarpon bait. Ditto that for big shrimp, piggy perch, croakers and hardheads.

Ballooning suspended dead or live baits about 8 feet deep is a top tactic for tarpon, especially on calm days with no current. By the way, strong currents are usually the kiss of death when tarpon fishing. In fact, the dead water when tides are switching directions is excellent when you’re fishing along the jetties.

The most exciting option for hooking up with tarpon is to use artificial lures. Some of the best are the 77M MirrOlures. A Coon Pop jig has caught tons if big tarpon. Another good jig is a 3-ounce Texas Tarpon Pop (one of my favorites). The Coon Pop, Term Pop and Texas Tarpon Pop are very similar. Basically it’s a lead-head jig attached to a plastic curl-tail grub. The jig and grub are wired to something like a 16/0 circle hook. The Coon and Term Pops are rigged on 2-ounce lead head jigs. My personnel best tarpon, 185 pounds, was caught on a Coon Pop. Louisiana’s Capt. Lance “Coon” Schouest invented the Coon Pop, and many look-alikes have been developed over the years.

Casting, trolling or bump trolling with a trolling motor are productive ways to catch tarpon. When trolling or bump trolling, a boat is normally pulling four to five lures. Plaag, among the best tarpon guides on the Gulf Coast, says he likes to bump troll with four rods. Two are rigged short and two long with one on the shotgun line that’s well back and straight off the stern One of his best days this summer was when he spent about eight hours on a school of tarpon out of Galveston. They had 11 strikes and got three to the boat. The heaviest tarpon ever caught on his boat weighed an estimated 237 pounds. It was 6 feet, 9 inches long with a 49-inch girth. That one was caught on a dead shad. Plaag says he’s been chasing tarpon for about 20 years. During that time he’s caught about eight over 200 pounds. Just so you’ll know, a 200-pounder will have a girth of 45 inches or more.

Of all the sporting fish in the world, there aren’t many as profoundly beautiful and talented as tarpon. And guess what — the time is right for catching one off the Texas coast right now.

Capt. Robert Sloan runs tarpon fishing charters out of Port O’Connor. He can be reached at (409) 782-6796 or at Capt. James Plaag, with Silver King Adventures, runs tarpon trips out of Galveston. He can be reached at (409) 935-7242.