Tips for Night Fishing the Keys for Tarpon, by Chip Willimon 4/21/2015

With Tarpon season off to a fast start, I thought I would share a few tips on fishing at night. Yes, it’s a ton of fun to sight cast to the Silver King or fish a live mullet around the bridges in the late afternoon. But tarpon can be notoriously finicky during daylight hours. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing tarpon lazily rolling all around you and not being able to buy a bite. It takes me back to my high school days sitting in class with all these hot girls and not having a clue how to talk to them. Well just like I eventually learned that having a really good job and a little alcohol works wonders with pretty girls, I also learned that those same finicky tarpon go on feeding rampages almost every night.

We have had many nights drifting crabs where we jumped over 20 tarpon in a 4 hour tide. We have also jumped well over 20 on plugs at night as well. You could go your whole life and not jump 20 on plugs in the daytime in the clear waters of the Keys. The same channels that are packed with pleasure boats, jet ski's and fishermen during the daytime are empty at night except for the tarpon dropping into them from their migrations to feed.

Here are a few tips to make getting out there at night a little more productive and less intimidating. First, all nights aren't created equal. I prefer a really calm night when fishing the big wide open channels. On those same channels in the daytime I prefer the wind to be blowing 10 to 15 to make the fish less spooky. At night slick calm is perfect. On calm nights you can really pinpoint where the fish are holding by hearing all the explosions on top. It will really get your blood pumping. It also makes it much easier for the tarpon to hear your crab clicking as it struggles on the hook. We have also had good success blind casting large 10 inch Hogy soft baits on calm nights. Be warned, the tarpon will follow the bait all the way back to the boat and explode on it right at the rood tip. It's not for someone with a weak heart.

On windy nights I lean towards the more protected channels but they can be a pain to drift because they are narrower and the wind can push you up on the flat before you realize it's happening. In that situation I tend to anchor at the bridges and throw plugs around the pilings. This can be super productive for jumping fish but they tend to spit the plugs really easily. Be very careful handling a tarpon at night with a mouth full of large trebble hooks. If it doesn't change the action of your plug you can take all but one of the trebbles off and will most likely have the same hook up percentages with much less danger when dehooking the fish.

One thing that we found really helps calm at tarpon down at night is to keep your spot light shinning directly on his eye. Their eye is really reflective so even 25 yards from the boat it's easy to track with the spot light. I'm not sure why but the light seems to make the tarpon much more docile. As soon as you take the light off of them they seem to get a burst of energy. This doesn't always work and some fish stay too deep during the fight to shine but I have seen it work way more times than not.

To keep track of your baits at night I put a couple of small strips of reflective tape on the tops of the corks. I do it on top so the tarpon can't see the reflection as well below the surface. I don't shine the corks the whole time but it's nice to quickly check your bait position.

I recommend a very tall anchor light in the boat while drifting so it is not shinning right in your eyes. Keeping your night vision is very important. I keep a very strong but small LED flashlight in my pocket in case a boat is running too close to us, I can quickly shine it to catch their attention. For some reason people will stare at their GPS and not watch for boats and I have had them not see my anchor light. We had a 30 plus foot center console full of people, music blaring and the boat all lit up with the drivers nose right on the GPS almost run right over us one night. That little powerful flashlight saved us getting the drivers attention at the last second. A hand held spot light is even better to get a approaching boaters attention but this happened so fast the flashlight was the quickest thing. For rigging baits, tying knots or other in boat tasks I use a small headlamp. The newer LED ones are surprisingly powerful with really good battery life.

When navigating at night, I highly recommend running the route to and from the area you intend to fish in the daytime and save a GPS trail for exactly where you want to run on a route that takes you well away from channel markers, flats edges and any other items you need to avoid. One thing to be very mindful of when running a GPS trail at night is to watch for sailboats or yachts that have pulled in for the night. Many of these boats have very dim little anchor lights that are 30 feet up a mast and you absolutely can not see them until you are on top of them. A quick scan with the spotlight periodically is important even if you know the route.

I use my GPS a ton while drifting at night. Many nights have weaker currents and you will be very surprised at some of your drifts. You think you are drifting towards the bridge but then you look at your GPS and find you are drifting away from the bridge with the wind or angling across the channel towards a flat. I recommend laying down a way point on the GPS near where you are drifting that you can use as a quick refernce to tell if you are drifting as you thought you were. I also hit the way point right where we hook up so I can drift the same area again. The fish often will hold in big schools in the same area and you can get a bunch of hook ups before they move. Be sure not to run the boat right over them when setting up for your next drift. Run a big circle around them and set up your drift to pass back over them.

I hope some of these tips help. The more I get out chasing the poons at night the more I enjoy it. It's really nice when they eat like crazy. If you want to try it with a professional first, give Blue Moon Expeditions a try and let us show you the ropes.