Mangrove fishing, then the Pass makes for a great day

Mangrove fishing, then the Pass makes for a great day

■ BY CAPT. CHRIS ONEILL

It’s tarpon time in the world’s best silver king fishing hole. Boca Grande Pass is ground zero for summertime anglers from around the globe. The sight of thousands of sunrise tarpon rolling on the water’s surface is a truly magical experience. Estimates suggest that fifty to a hundred thousand tarpon migrate into Boca Grande and the Charlotte Harbor estuary during the summer months to spawn and feed. Anglers that want to avoid the hustle and bustle of BGP take to the beaches and the interior waters of Charlotte Harbor for fly, live bait and plug sight casting opportunities. Peak BGP tarpon season runs from April through July, but resident and plenty of migrating tarpon will remain in Charlotte Harbor until the fall.

My typical summer day normally begins guiding guests to countless snook under dock lights and area bridges well before dawn. Many anglers enjoy fishing under the stars without the heat and hazard of the sun. Night fishing is what I call “easy fishing” for guests, typically producing 50 or more snook in two or three hours of sight fishing to piles of hungry snook. If you have not experienced this, I invite you to head out at night and take a look at your local canal, pass or bay docks that are lighted. Approach with caution and respect the property. Homeowner’s understand water is public property, but the dock and its contents are pri- vate property. Tying up to private docks and making excessive noise is a no-no, so do the right thing and you will have a great time catching lots of fish. Pitching live pilchards into the snook feeding frenzy zone is great fun and the easiest way to catch countless snook in this setting. Larger snook frequently tuck into darker areas with less current to easily ambush aimlessly passing prey. Works lures and live bait utilizing the flow of current and work them from the shadow into the light, just as it would naturally present itself.

While the majority of our local captains are on the hunt for tarpon, the pristine backcountry waters in our area are left alone for the fish to roam the flats. Translation, no pressure equals world-class inshore fishing for BIG snook and other local species. It is not unusual to steer my guests into a backcountry honey hole on the way to BGP and throw a topwater lure like a Bomber Saltwater Grade “Badonkadonk” in 4” size near the mangroves as the sun rises. The sheer exhilaration of witnessing a big push of water and a giant snook or oversized redfish blasting the lure out of the water is extremely hard to describe. Keep your eyes open for a backcountry tarpon or an occasional cruising cobia while you’re stalking reds and snook. Most fish in that capacity will eagerly take your offering because they are searching for food.

Besides the above mentioned world-class fishing opportunities, we have a multitude of other species to target. The nearshore waters have football field sized schools of bonito, spanish mackerel, and king mackerel. Lastly, BGP is currently home to giant hammerhead and bull sharks in search of distressed tarpon and it’s not unusual to lose a tarpon on two after you hook up.

Seasonal afternoon storms are beginning to make a showing, so keeping a keen eye on weather apps or your radar is always a clever idea when convection begins to build from approaching fronts. Our current red tide levels along the gulf beaches and Charlotte Harbor remain low to moderate this week and should remain the same as the typical higher levels remain to our south in Lee and Collier Counties.

Capt. Chris O’Neill is a retired (20 year) veteran, an outdoor writer and has Tail Chaser Charter Service of Boca Grande. Capt. Chris can be reached at 941-270-7867 or at tailchasercharters.com