Thanks to local tarpon gurus Capt. Fuzzy Davis, Capt. Jimmy Reece, and a handful of others, tarpon hit the map in the 1980s in Hilton Head Island. It all started with a trip to Captiva Florida, I’m told, to catch tarpon and learn about the fishery from seasoned guide Bon Holloway. Upon returning to Hilton Head Island, they decided they had to find tarpon in these waters and lean to target them with some regularity. With quite a bit of trial and error, these guys alone truly started tarpon fishing on Hilton Head Island. Since then, information regarding the availability and techniques in which to catch tarpon has flooded the internet. My hat goes off to those “poon pioneers” for starting from scratch and shedding light on this wonderful fishery. Many anglers wonder why you would spend all that time baking in the summer sun and soaking live or dead baits, only to MAYBE catch and release one giant shiny fish. Well, what do you get when you cross the speed and agility of Bruce Lee, with the power and showmanship of “Macho Man” Randy Savage? Tarpon! The true mystique of tarpon comes from their arial displays, lengthy migrations, ability to breath air, and their unpredictability. Tarpon are the ultimate target for catch and release anglers because they swim incredibly fast, jump clear out of the water, do flips, and of course they get huge. With fish ranging anywhere from 50-200lbs in our area, tarpon definitely fit the bill for inshore and nearshore big game fishing. Tarpon migrate to the lowcounty starting in early June and then head back south at the end of September. Tarpon go all the way to VA and beyond on this migration but there are a good many fish that call Hilton Head home for a few months. During this time you’ll find tarpon blasting through schools of menhaden and mullet in the sounds and beaches, way up the rivers and creeks, and holding on to structure anywhere in between. It takes quite a bit of food to keep these giant predators satisfied so keep an eye out for large concentrations of bait. My biggest and most memorable tarpon to date was two years ago in late September. I had a trip with a crew I take regularly, and we were targeting bull redfish in Port Royal Sound. We anchored up over some live bottom and sent a live menhaden down to the bottom on a large circle hook on with a 30 lb spinning outfit. Within minutes we had a bite that we would have sworn was a bull redfish until the line ascended and out came a whale of a tarpon. We all stared in disbelief and then scrambled to throw the anchor and clear our rods before we were spooled. Once we caught up to the fish she sounded to 60+ feet of water, which is the deepest spot in this area I know of. This jumbo tarpon continued to whoop my angler’s butt for almost two hours (tarpon jail). He tried to pass the rod off several times but we encouraged him to stick with it to the end. Finally, we got the fish to the boat after a few impressive jumps and head thrashes and got ahold of that big jaw. We unhooked her and estimated the weight to be around 180 lbs, and then spent the better part of a half hour reviving the fish. Later that evening around 8:30pm I received a text with a picture of my angler out cold in bed. I look forward to watching more of my anglers battle these beasts through the summers. If I find myself fishing without customers, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that little 50 lb acrobat.
These silver kings can do a number on one’s psyche. One day you are covered in them and are lucky enough to put a few in the air, and the next day you’ll be left scratching your head; wondering if it was all just a dream. You would think landing a tarpon would leave you with a feeling of satisfaction, however it seems for every tarpon I land, I want the next one even more. Not all anglers can take the rejection that comes with tarpon fishing, while others embrace the unpredictability and wild spirit of these awesome creatures. If you are willing to put in the time and effort to pursue tarpon, you will be rewarded by a giant slimy fish we call, “Mr. T”. Each visit from “Mr. T” feels like my very first one with the rushing adrenaline, pure chaos, and the need for more. For those with an addictive personality, watch out for your new favorite sport fish! Come get in on the tarpon action here in Hilton Head Island and see for yourself what an honor it is say, “I got him!”
Contributed By: Captain Kai Williams
Awesome Adventure Charters
Hilton Head Island, SC