Tarpon Fishing in Boca Grande, Florida

by Dick Recchia

The first time I used a fly rod to fish for tarpon, I traveled to Homosassa Florida, a town with a name that means: “where wild peppers grow”. However, in addition to its peppers, Homosassa was also renown as “the spot” to fish for wild Tarpon and its that reputation that drew me to try to hook my first “poon” on a fly. That year, my trip was a success and I managed to hook and land a tarpon of about 85lbs. However my experience the following tarpon season (May and June) didn’t meet with any success.

But, once you’ve hooked and fought a big Tarpon, it’s really addictive. This is true in spite of the fact that they are extremely difficult to hook on a fly…and therefore the “success rate” for fly fishers is relatively low compared to other salt water fishing. So, when my good friend and guide Phil Chapman, told me he was moving his Tarpon fishing operations from Homosassa to Boca Grande, (because of the larger number of tarpon), I immediately booked a trip.

Boca Grande is located about 90 miles south of Tampa on the West Coast of Florida. In the 30’and 40’s it was a winter playground for the wealthy with mild temperatures, a luxury hotel and golf course, miles of white beaches, and good salt water fishing. However through the next few decades, Boca Grande’s allure as a exclusive resort faded while at the same time it developed into a blue ribbon fishing spot for Tarpon. In the early 80’s it was once again “rediscovered”, and today the beaches are lined with million dollar homes and Boca Grande has once again assumed the prominence it enjoyed before WWII.

All that history aside, my original fly fishing experience in Homosassa was very different than the fly fishing techniques utilized in Boca Grande. The difference is apparent in many different ways, namely:

In Homosassa, the Tarpon fishing is more “stealth like”…with guides poling the boat through shallows waters actually “hunting” for tarpon.

In Boca Grande the guides look for surfacing Tarpon “on the move”, then they ride along the side of the school using quiet electric motors while the fly fisher continually casts a fly.

In Homosassa, 95% of the folks fishing are using flies.

In Boca Grande, 95% of the folks fishing are using live bait (crabs).

In Homosassa there a fewer Tarpon…and fewer people fishing.

In Boca Grande there are lots of tarpon…and lots of people fishing.

For all those reasons, there is a natural conflict that develops between the fly fisher chasing a pod of Tarpon with the hopes of being able to fish unmolested…and those fishing with bait, who see any rising tarpon as “fair game”. The quest by both parties to hook a fish coupled with their natural competitive instincts sometimes results in selfish fishing behavior. It also creates a certain “them” and “us” attitude from both sides.

However, all things considered, there are plenty of Tarpon in the waters around Boca Grande and that translates into lots of opportunities to hook a fish on a fly. But it “ain’t easy” and it generally requires:

A long day on the water.
The ability to “double haul” with a 12-weight fly rod.
Patience.
Endurance.
And (above all) a positive fishing attitude.
However, even if you have all those characteristics, you’re not guaranteed to hook a Tarpon. And even if you do hook one, the chances of keeping it hooked and getting it to the boat are about 1 in 10. But with all those odds against you, its still an awesome fly fishing experience that I highly recommend. So, if you inclined to accept a stiff fly fishing challenge, head on down to Boca Grande and “rip some poon lips”.

Travel details:
Airport: Tampa International Airport

Fishing arrangements:
Captain Phil Chapman-Lakeland, Florida Tele:863/646-9445