Just finished up 8 straight days of live baiting for tarpon in Islamorada. This is a trip we have done for over 17 straight years. I take my Dad and a couple of our fishing buddies from back in SC. We fish live-bait and go all out to feed as many tarpon as possible during the week, day or night.
This year we got 32 tarpon to eat and touched the leader on 20. I moved up to 8/0 Owner Circle Hook this year and experienced a much better hook up ratio. For years I used a 5/0 Circle Hook and was lucky to hook and land 25% of the fish that would eat so landing over 60% speaks volumes about the bigger hooks. Makes me mad I didn't do it sooner.
We usually split our time fishing mullet and crabs but we had such a hot afternoon and night time crab bite, we never messed with the mullet very much. Probably one of the reasons for our better hook up percentage. Tarpon don't miss crabs like they do mullet.
The first half of our trip was really unsettled weather with a low pressure forming and winds from 15 to 25 each day. The chop on the water actually made the fish easier to feed but boat control was critical to present the baits properly. We had 8 eats one of the windiest afternoons. The only day we didn't get a hit was the day it was flat calm. Those calm days can be frustrating because you see zillions of fish but the water gets super clear and they don't bite nearly as well. Those calm days are great for fly fishing but we had 4 people in the boat so that was a no go. But on super calm nights, the bite can be epic. Therefore on windy periods we fished the daytime harder and didn't night fish as much. Conversely on the super calm days we hardly fished during the day and saved our energy to be on the water for much of the night.
The nice thing about fishing that pattern we avoided any large crowds. The windy days most captains were canceling their parties and the night bite is never very crowded even with perfect weather.
We even picked up a bonus 25 to 30 pound permit while fishing one night. I didn't target them but I saw a couple of nice pods of tailing bonefish on the lower stages of the tides. The next two months are as good as it gets in the Keys.