"Right now, the tarpon bite is really good, and with the water temperature in the ocean still hovering around 79 to 80 degrees, it should stay that way for a while," said Roff (843-446-7337). "The tarpon have been around throughout the summer and will continue to bite well until the water temperature drops below the 75-degree mark. There's still a good bit of time before that happens. Water temperatures drops slower in the ocean than in freshwater, and we are in the midst of a really good tarpon bite right now."
Roff, who operates Barrier Island Guide Service, has guided for 10 years and specialized in tarpon for nearly six years. He's had an excellent run lately, with a 175-pound fish hooked and landed one day, and another big tarpon hooked up the next morning – but that brute literally broke an 8/0 circle hook.
"We've got a really good catch rate on tarpon hooked, and that's about 50 percent," Roff said. "But odds of hooking up on nearly every trip are very good if you know the keys. There are several places around Georgetown where I find tarpon frequently, but the precise location will change on a daily basis depending on tides and forage availability."
Roff said the keys to hooking up with a tarpon are two-fold. It's a combination of finding big schools of mullet that are pushing southward down the beach and into the larger inlets, along with an identifiable ambush point for the tarpon.
"What I am doing right now is searching for and finding the large schools of mullet that are filtering through a specific area," he said. "Next is to find a focal point where the tarpon will have the forage bunched up in a specific area where they can feed on them at will. It's usually a place I can physically identify and target my bait presentation.
"A typical place and good example is an area where current swings around a point of land and the mullet are pushed up on shallow bars and become easy prey. Also, high spots or ridges are good features, as well as the mouths of inlets or creeks. The level of the tide and whether the tide is rising or falling always impacts where I look for tarpon. That's why there is no single or specific number of tarpon hotspots, there are lots of variables every day."
Roff said live mullet, which he catches in a cast net, is by far his favorite bait.
"I prefer a moderate-sized mullet, because the fish will bite them readily, and I have a better percentage of hookups as compared to using large mullet," he said. "I use big spinning rigs with 160-pound braided line with the 8/0 circle hook. I free-line the bait so it stays shallow, otherwise, sharks or other species will be constantly taking the bait if fished on the bottom. I also use a float about four feet above the bait so I know the precise location of each bait.
"Knowing where my bait is located is crucial. When I get on the right location, we'll see tarpon rolling and feeding in specific places in the area. I then adjust my bait presentation by positioning the boat upcurrent from the fish and adjust the bait presentation by letting out more or less line to precisely where tarpon are feeding. That's when we can quickly hook up with a tarpon, and the game is on."