The following article, written by former Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) participant (and winner), Capt. Andy Boyette, is being republished in its original form with permission. Obviously, we are not posting this article to help instruct anglers on how to jig fish, rather, to help educate the general public on exactly what jig fishing for tarpon is. We felt this was important follow-up to the new “Battle in Boca Grande” article published in the Winter 2013 issue of Guy Harvey Magazine and welcome your input in the comments section following his article.
Capt. Andy Boyette is an accomplished tarpon angler and full-time fishing guide in the Charlotte Harbor region. He no longer participates in jig fishing or the PTTS. When discussing why he left, Capt. Andy answered, “I want no part of a totally disruptive, rude and obnoxious tournament that blocks other anglers five weekends in a row during prime tarpon season.”
How To Jig Tarpon In Boca Grande Pass
Edit: It has come to my attention that some may think that I am teaching snagging here but YOU should be aware that this IS the method employed in Boca Grande Pass. Although it is known as jigging, my intent is to educate you so that you can decide for yourself what it is. It should also be noted that I NO LONGER DO THIS AND HAVE NOT FOR SOME TIME NOW.
How to catch tarpon using the Boca Grande jigging method:
In order to be successful you must first understand that this method is not really jigging. The term jigging is a EUPHEMISM that the guides and tournament anglers use. Although this term is used to describe it there is no resemblance to actual jigging.
First, I will go over how this method was developed and then evolved, and the controversy that surrounds it. I cannot say for sure that this was actually the beginning, but it is when the method caught on here. Some may have been experimenting with it long before. In the Nineties there were numerous Boca Grande Pass fishing tournaments with lots of money at stake. Some purses promised as much as $100,000, $200,000, and even up to $1,000,000 to a winning team.
These figures do not include any Calcutta money (cash bet on the side to pick the winner). With so much money at stake and the prestige of claiming the win and bragging rights as the best of the best, many of these tournaments were filled with fishing guides. These tournament anglers began searching for a way to win, which typically means a shortcut that manages to stay within the rules. A few of the successful participants later admitted to and confessed to using the jig method.
At this point the tournament scene split into two factions: live bait only and an open tournament that rarely sees any live bait used but is 99.9% jig fishing. There were law suits filed and FWC mortality studies and hook placement studies to determine if indeed a jig caught fish was snagged, since this was the issue that caused the split of the participants and the players of the Boca Grande Pass Tarpon scene that continues to this day.
I know. I have been in this scene as a guide since 1998. I have lived it and seen it and heard it, been there and done that, and still fish here to this day. I have fished for tarpon (to my own knowledge) in just about every way you can fish for them, including for an 8 year period exclusively with the jig fishing method. I choose now to fish with live bait and various artificial lures, plugs, swim baits, etc.; but I no longer use the method known as jig fishing.
Next, I will explain rigging, techniques, tips, and tricks that work and why they work. Keep in mind here that the FWC along with their own researcher determined this to be a legal means to catch tarpon so no one should contact me or bash me, or question my intentions.
When looking across the jig fishing arena in the Pass it becomes evident that there are a lot of anglers struggling to catch as many fish as some of the others. It’s not hard to look across the Pass and see that there are some boats that seem to be hooking up a lot more than others.
If you think that the few fish you caught were good enough, you should know that when I used this method I could achieve as many as 15-20 hookups a day and sometimes many more if I was fishing with clients that had been taught to use this method in previous seasons. I called them my ” I am going to look good today” clients.
With all that said, forget the term “jigging”. As I stated earlier, it is not jigging. Here is a better term and a better description: FLOSSING or LINING. Do some research if you do not recognize the terms. Google the words “FISH FLOSSING” and you’ll find a few forum discussions and videos on the first page. After some research you then need to think about the presentation of the Boca Grande jig.
Here is one FLOSSING video that has some good footage of the presentation. If you need to, turn your monitor sideways and you will see his hook looks similar to a Boca Grande jig.
When you FLOSS (aka Jig) in Boca Grande it is vertical and the only weight required is attached to the bottom of the hook. The angler is holding the other end of the line to keep the hook straight, and the current and the boat driver will present the bait to a dense school of tarpon balled together. I should interject here that when the fish are not in a dense school in deep water you should put away your jigging rods and get some live bait. It will increase the amount of fish you catch, and that is the objective, after all.
1) Rod should be a medium light to medium power 7 footer with extra fast action. The fast action allows you to be in constant contact with the weight and line and enables you to feel the subtle movements as the tarpon are under your boat.
2) Reel should be 6:1 retrieve. There are a few a bit faster but 6:1 works fine. This allows the line to be retrieved an average of about 4-5 feet for every 1 turn of the reel handle. It should have a long crank arm and speed ball that fits in the palm of the hand for speed, and be capable of holding about 250-300 yards of line. This type of reel with this amount of line gives you the capability of speed reeling your jig through the dense schools of fish.
3) Line should be 40# monofilament. If you can get it, use fluorocarbon. This is because the tarpon are capable of seeing the line, and smaller diameter and/ or fluorocarbon help in concealment. Absolutely do not use braid, not because it hums like many say, but because tarpon see it and move away from your line.
4) Leader should be 80# fluorocarbon no longer than 12 inches for concealment.
5) Octopus circle hooks (offset) 8/0. Not the original style circle hooks but the octopus circles (the ones that look like J hooks with a little bend in the point). This way you cannot be accused of snagging and you will land more tarpon.
5) A Boca Grande Tarpon Jig typically in 4oz weight. If you use non-painted jigs the tarpon cannot see them as well. The better your concealment, the more fish you hook.
How to rig and why:
I will only cover the business end of the rigging since everyone should know to put line on the reel. In order to FLOSS (aka jig) tarpon in Boca Grande Pass you should understand that seldom is a tarpon caught inside the mouth with a tarpon jig. They are mostly all caught on the outside of the mouth in the clipper or the soft tissue of the cheek. I know that many will say that is not true but I caught thousands of tarpon with a tarpon jig and out of the THOUSANDS not more than TEN had the hook inside the mouth.
If there are other guides achieving better results they should take pictures and/ or have their clients verify this. But it really does not matter that it’s hooked on the outside since, as I said earlier, the FWC and their lead researcher determined that this was all legal.
You need to tie a small Bimini twist in the main line. Use the least amount of wraps you can get by with so you have small knots. I used about 15 wraps. My knots were nice and compact, and concealment is important: tarpon see very well. Attach the leader to the Bimini with a uni-to-uni or some other line to line connection, again with as small a knot as possible. Now, and this is critical, the double line of your Bimini where it meets the first knot should only be about 3-4 inches long and the leader should be only 12 inches long. Yes, I said a 3-4 inch long Bimini and 12 inch long leader, and I also said critical.
When you are FLOSSING (aka jigging) tarpon it is about concealment at the hook and above. You need the smallest of knots and the shortest of leaders and 40# line is half the size of the Bimini you just tied and much smaller than the 80# leader. You are about to drop your line down ahead of a dense school of tarpon and drift over them as your line passes by and speed reel your hook a through a stack of tarpon and if you have a long leader the fish see it and separate and are no longer dense under your boat. The great density of fish directly under your boat is the primary requirement of this technique.
How to present the jig:
Presenting the jig is done in tandem by the boat driver and the angler holding the rod. First the boat must be positioned stern into the current so that you can constantly reverse into the current allowing the boat and fishing line to drift at the same speed through the dense schools of tarpon in 40-80 feet of water. In other words, your line must be straight below the tip of the rod, at a near perfect 90 degree angle with the water’s surface, and must be kept that way for the entire drift. There is no exception to this so count it as a rule.
The line cannot be paid out or angled at all. It must be straight down under the rod tip. The rod must be held perfectly still and the jig should be dropped to the very bottom and fished within inches of the bottom. This places the lead just above the bottom hook facing up ready to be retrieved. Once you feel subtle movement like the fish bumping into the line you reel your 6:1, speed handle equipped (4-5 feet retrieved per revolution of the handle) reel as fast as you can.
This is done to drag the line over the fish, and if everything lines up you will hook a tarpon in the side of the cheek or the clipper. If you miss the first one your jig passes, there will be another above, since you should now be hovering above a dense school of tarpon. After all, you are retrieving at 4-5 feet per handle turn as fast as you can. Most of the time it takes 3 to 5 (sometimes more) turns of the handle to hook the fish. If one had actually bit the jig at the bottom it would not have required much more than 1 turn with that much retrieve, since you’re directly above the fish with no slack in your line, and since the hook is heavily weighted, there is little stretch in the line.
There are those who say it is impossible to snag fish with a circle hook. Here is a little test you can do. Set up the jig just as described, on a 4 foot piece of line, said circle hook attached to a 4oz. jig, bend over and put the line across your neck. With the jig now hanging over your neck, take the end of the line that does not have the jig attached to it and pull the jig and hook over your neck. It WILL hook you so be careful.
You might also simulate how the pass works by hanging about 150 tarpon jigs (which would equal a slow day in the pass) from a tree in your yard and then walk through the jigs hanging from the tree. Be careful here too. If you do it fast you might even jump when you get hooked. Most people think circle hooks do not snag. That is incorrect. Circle hooks hook a fish and lessen the chance of gut hooking.
Circle hooks were designed for long line commercial fishermen who put out miles of unattended lines where a fish would bite the bait, swim away and become hooked by snagging themselves. That is how they work. Here is a video which shows how circle hooks can and do snag fish outside the mouth. Notice there is no bait on the hook; it is pulled into the side of the fish’s face. Colorado is the only state I know that made it legal. Google Moffitt Angling System (out of business and ruled to be snagging or foul hooking almost everywhere). Most states say hooking outside the mouth is foul hooking.
Circle hooks hang on the clipper of a Tarpon.
Here are a few tips and tricks that are used in the Pass. The circle hook can be offset more with your pliers making it much more successful. The lead should be unpainted for concealment. When it’s just gray it is more like a shadow. The tails should be narrow and skinny, not the shad style. I used the Cocahoe Minnow from H and H lures. If the water is clear and you are not hooking tarpon, they are seeing your line or your lure. Try biting your tails in half to make them smaller.
After dropping your jig to the bottom you must hold your rod tip pointed at the water and not move it or you will not feel the subtle movements on the line. If the fish are spread out in the pass and not balled up into schools they are difficult to hook because there are fewer chances to FLOSS (aka Jig) one under these conditions. You get fewer chances as you quickly retrieve your jig when there are only a few fish under your boat.
First thing in the morning is the best time because they can’t see the line. If you reel on the first bump you will hook the fish outside in on the clipper, but if you wait and do not reel until the second bump, the line will loop around the tarpon and hook on the opposite side and hook the clipper inside out. Fishing and FLOSSING/LINING (aka jigging) are two different things and if you understand this, you can be better at using the Boca Grande jig.
Remember, the FWC and their leading researcher made this legal, so if you have a problem with this you should contact them, not me. Here is link to the data.
They even call it foul-hooking on their website.
Capt. Andy Boyette