How to Fish and Catch Backwater Shad
Fishing for tarpon in the backwaters is an exciting but challenging adventure! Shad size ranges from a pound of juveniles to over 100 pounds, and both sizes can be found in as little as 3-4 feet of water. No matter what size of Tarpon you latch on, catching a Silver King is an experience you will never forget!
Tarpon can be found in many different areas. Juvenile shad will often stay in one area throughout the year until it reaches a size where it can move into larger bodies of water. There are also areas where the Tarpon can only come out at extremely high tides. In these lakes and ponds, the Tarpon will only reach a size that adapts to the size of the water body and the amount of food available. In winter, some large Tarpon will move into rivers to find warmer water, such as around power plant runoff. When the water warms up, they will go out to sea again.
Catching and landing a Tarpon is one of the hardest things to do as a Tarpon fisherman. However, hooking on a Tarpon is relatively easy. Hooking a Tarpon is all about figuring out what bait they are feeding on and when. For every ten or fifteen Tarpons you hook on, you may only manage to land one or two of them. In many cases, the battle may end before you even realize it started. Catching a Tarpon requires knowledge, skill, and a lot of luck.
Searching for Tarpon in backwaters and bays can be difficult if you have no idea where to look. Like I said before, Tarpon along with other species of fish like Snook will move into warm water during winter when the water is cold. If you can find a water runoff from a power plant, you will be able to find Tarpon there. In rivers, even in fresh water, you can find Tarpon. Look around bridges, in deep channels, and even in small streams. Tarpon will always give itself away when it comes out to breathe. Tarpons have a swim bladder that they use to breathe underwater and to help them float. If a Tarpon cannot reach the surface to breathe, it will die. Therefore, an easy way to find Tarpon is to search for its signature roll. When they surface for air, they swing and you will see their head on the surface and then the rest of their body roll when they swim back. Watch for fins breaking the surface of the water.
Due to the sizes of Tarpon, there is a specific tackle that you must use to catch them. Your fishing rod should be in medium to heavy stock, and should be between 6 and a half to 7 feet long. The fishing reel should be one that can hold the line in the 20 to 40 pound range, like the 4000 series reels. Always use a good strong leader, such as a 40 to 60 pound test fluorocarbon. Depending on what lure or bait you are using, that will determine the length of the leader to use. If you are using surface plugs you will need to keep your lead shorter as the fluorocarbon line is heavy and will drag the front of the lure down. Otherwise, use a leader that is at least 2 feet long and up to 6 feet.
Tarpons like to eat many different types of fish and shellfish. Tarpon as bait fish such as Pinfish, Mullet, Ladyfish, Threadfins, and white bait. They will also eat crabs and shrimp. In rivers and fresh water, try using catfish as bait, but be sure to cut off the fin barbs first.
The rig is also an important consideration once you determine the bait to use. Floats or corks are good for keeping the bait off the bottom. Normally 2 feet between the popper cork and the hook is good, but adjust the ratio depending on the depth of the water where you are fishing. Whenever fishing live or dead baits, try to use circle hooks. Always use hooks the size of your bait. It is not advisable to use a hook that is too small and weak. A Tarpon is a very strong fish and can easily straighten a weak hook. You also don’t want to use a hook that is too large, because this will make your live bait look unnatural when swimming. If you are not sure what size hook to use, ask your local tackle shop which hook works best for which size of bait.
Lures have always been a great way to hook Tarpon. The key to lures is discovering what interests them that day. You may find out one day that they are breaking surface lures and the next day they don’t even take a look at you. What I have found is that any lure with good flash and vibration seems to work best when fishing Tarpon. Gold and copper colored spoons work well in channels and deeper water. If you are fishing in beds of grass, use a weed-free type of bucket. Due to the flash, these lures work well in stained or cloudy water. In clear water, lures like the Catch 2000 work well. This lure is a suspended lure and is ideal for medium level fishing. Jigs and soft baits have been good for Tarpon too. What I have found is that white baits like Z-TOO and light colored speckled baits like DOA shrimp work very well, but seem to work best when fast twitch while slowly wobbling. Stencils with light colored bodies and red heads work well for bouncing off the bottom.
When you see Tarpon rolling, watch to see which way they are moving. Try to put your bait or lure a few feet in front of where you saw them. If you place your fishing lure where it just rolled, it is very likely that it is no longer there. Try to always put distance between you and them. Tarpon has very good sight and hearing. If you are fishing from a boat, place the boat well ahead of the fish and to the side of the school. If you have a trolling motor, use it. Remember, silence is the key here – don’t start the engine and yell in front of them because now they know you are there and you will change direction.
When you hook on a Tarpon, you will have to learn to bow to the king. No, this is not a matter of respect; This is something you must learn to prevent the fish from shaking the hook. Every time a shad jumps out, it shakes its head trying to remove the hook. If you are pulling the fish right now, in most cases the hook will come out. So what you need to do is point the rod at the fish and even lean towards the fish to give it enough slack for the hook to stay on the edge of the fish. This still does not mean that you will catch the Tarpon, but it does increase your chances of getting it.
When you have the grace to catch a tarpon, always respect the fish. Handle the fish correctly so that it can survive to be caught again and produce more big fish like it. Never hang fish by the gills or mouth. Cradle the fish in a horizontal position and only do this if you are taking a photo. It is always best to keep the fish in the water and remove the hook. Make sure to give the fish time to revive before releasing it. Large fish should never be removed from the water, as doing so is almost certain death for the fish. Just hang your head to the side and take the photo. Use common sense and respect for these great fish, as they got the name Silver King for a reason.
Hope this article gave you some tips and tricks on how to catch Tarpon in the backwater! The Silver King is beautiful, and I hope we can all keep catching it for years to come!