For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox

Sign Up Now!

Boca Grande Pass on Florida’s Gulf Coast is world-famous for the number of tarpon it attracts from around April 15 to the middle of July. The tarpon number in the thousands, and sighting 500 on any given day is not uncommon. Unfortunately, the area is widely known among heavy tackle anglers who flock to the area with big boats and 80-pound-test equipment. Most of these anglers fish the two deep holes in Boca Grande Pass and fish with cut bait. This kind of fishing does not appeal to me, and I never gave fishing here a second thought until I heard about some guides in the area who eschew “pass fishing” in favor of “beach fishing.”

Many guides who fish the beach use live crabs for bait, but fly fishing is a growing part of the beach fishing scene. The three days I spent “beach fishing” for tarpon this past May turned out to be among the most exciting I have ever spent on the water. I spent two of my three fishing days with Capt. Tim McOsker (*); the other was with Capt. Greg Penix (*).

A typical day of “beach fishing” begins around daybreak and lasts until 4 p.m. or so. The technique involves slowly cruising the bay areas above and below Boca Grande Pass looking for pods of tarpon. Once a pod is sighted, the captain maneuvers the boat to intercept the pod and points the boat toward where the fish will pass. The fisherman then casts in front of the pod and hopes for a hook-up.

Guides place tarpon pods into two categories – “Happy Poons” and “Travelling Fish.” “Happy Poons” are slow-moving fish that pause frequently to feed and “daisy chain” (in other words, travel in a circle). “Travelling Fish” are much more difficult to hook up, as they are fish with a mission.

Over the three days I fished this past spring, I landed four fish – one 90-pounder, two 125-pounders and one 145-pounder (all weights estimated by the captains). Additionally, I jumped five other fish and hooked perhaps three or four more. Capt. McOsker and Capt. Penix were both excellent guides – knowledgeable, friendly, intense and good coaches. McOsker’s boat is better-suited for fly fishing, while Penix’s boat is more comfortable, given the addition of a Bimini top.

So, who should book this trip? Well, if you are a fly fisherman and you can cast a 12-weight 50 to 80 feet in a moderate breeze, I would wager you will experience at least one to two hook-ups per day. If your fishing tastes are more catholic and you are willing to fish with live bait, you should probably hook up with four to six fish a day. Keep in mind, landing these fish in Florida’s tropical heat is grueling. If you are lucky enough to hook a fish in the 120 to 150-pound range, expect a two-hour fight that will leave you as limp as a wet dishcloth.

The cost of a day of “beach fishing” is $350, which includes guide service, equipment, flies (or bait), boat and beverages. Lunch is not provided. – Fritz Krieger.

South Florida expert angler, Bill Stroh, has this to add: “Fritz Krieger is absolutely right about Boca Grande being viewed largely as a place for conventional-gear anglers. And he is equally correct in his view that it is a vastly underrated place for fly fishermen to pursue big tarpon. Fish as big as those you find around Boca Grande provide what I think is the ultimate fly rodding thrill. These fish give it their all during a fight. Several years ago, I hooked a Boca Grande monster that totally had its way with me. I couldn’t stop it, never turned it and could never once say I was in control. I ultimately lost it after about 25 minutes and I was relieved by defeat.

“Some battles here can last upwards of an hour and even longer than that if you don’t keep pressure on a fish from start to finish. A tarpon that is permitted to air and/or rest will be awarded the advantage and, at the very least, the fight will be prolonged.

“A day of tarpon fishing in Boca Grande should be approached realistically. There are thousands of tarpon in the area during the season, which begi

Previous reading
Undiscovered Tailwater Trout Fishery Near Taos
Next reading
Political Pressure Building Against Foreign-Owned Motherships