March signals springtime in Florida. Migrating fish and local fish that spent the winter in their backcountry haunts are now on the move. There will still be a few cold fronts, but at this point, those days are numbered, and it is the beginning of spring for Southwest Florida. As we start to see fewer cold fronts affecting water temperatures, the warming trends begin. It seems to creep up on us, but the closer we get to April, it becomes very clear, especially once that humidity is in the air during the early morning hours. It's a perfect time of year to target Tarpon and Permit but will also chase Snook and trout.
Springtime means Tarpon time. The water is consistently warmer, and the local fish is much “happier,” and small groups of migrating fish also begin to show up. Tarpons can be found in backcountry bays, canals, and out on beaches. The nice thing about tarpon is that when they are present, they let you know; you will see fish coming to the surface and rolling, and you will see quick flashes of silver. This is not always the case but can indicate that the fish are relaxed and maybe more willing to eat bait.
It is good to have an arsenal of baits when chasing Tarpon. There is nothing like catching one on artificial bait, but there are times when they just get finicky and want live minnows or a crab. When targeting Tarpon, I will have clients cast artificial baits on the front of the boat and run a few live baits off the back to try to entice a bite from fish that just may not want an artificial at that time.
For my artificial setups, I like to run a medium-heavy action rod with a 300-size Piscifun Alijoz. This reel sounds like it would be too small, but with 33 lb of drag, it does just fine! And the smaller size makes it much more comfortable to hold all day while casting and fighting fish.
For my live bait rods, I still run medium-heavy action rods with an 8000-size Piscifun Captain reel. I love this reel because, for its size, it is extremely light, coming in at only 17.2oz. It has Brass gears, and a max drag of 44 lb, which is more than enough drag to fight a Tarpon effectively, add to the list that it can hold close to 300 yards of 50lb braid, and this reel is the ultimate Tarpon spinning reel.
Snook & Trout
Try to look for deeper cuts with many currents adjacent to a flat as snook and trout begin to stage closer to the ocean. On an incoming tide, fish will sit in the deeper channel and feed as bait is being pushed through from the current; as the water rises, baitfish will move up onto the flat, and the Snook and trout will be right behind them.
Whether you're looking to target fish in the flat or deer cuts, using soft plastic swimbaits, flukes, and bucktail jigs between 3/8th oz. to ¾ oz can be effective. Pitching live pilchards along mangrove edges is another technique that can often yield great results. And, if you are fishing during a cold front, it is hard to beat a jig with a piece of shrimp hopped off the bottom.
For all these techniques, I like to use a 7ft medium heavy rod paired with a 3000 size Piscifun Captain or Carbon X reel. For this setup, I paired it with a 30lb braid line and topped it off with a 30-40 pound fluorocarbon leader. The smooth and powerful drag of these reels helps keep and pull fish away from mangroves, where they will ultimately break the line.
With water temps consistently warming and fish on the move, do not be afraid to do a lot of moving. If fishing in an area that you think looks good doesn't produce a bit within 15-20 minutes, move and try something else that looks like it may be productive. Always being on the hunt and consistently trying new areas will ultimately make you a better angler and help you learn more about which spots hold fish consistently and which do not.
Get out there and put some fish into the boat!