Beckwith said from the numbers of tarpon already in the sound and river, he is expecting a good year, predicting that unless Mother Nature plays some last-minute prank, the fishing in the upcoming Oriental Rotary Tarpon Tournament should be some of the best in recent years.
"The fresh water running down the river doesn't bother the tarpon," said Beckwith (252-671-3474). "Sometimes in their quest for food they swim into lightly brackish areas on their own, and they have been spotted all over the river. There have been mixed reports of them for several weeks, and one of our fishermen jumped three on Sunday."
Beckwith said fishermen are likely to see tarpon on any given day in July and August in a handful of places. Getting out early and looking for rolling fish is the ideal way to locate them, but, when that can't be done, one of those spots is the rough triangle formed by Brant Island Shoals, Cedar Island and Swan Island. Beckwith said tarpon could be anywhere in this area, which has water of 18 feet or deeper.
"Tarpon respond well to chum," Beckwith said. "If a fisherman anchors in the 'triangle' and deploys a good chum line, the odds are really good he will have a shot at a tarpon or two. Of course, keeping it hooked and landing it is something totally different."
Tarpon fishermen, Beckwith said, should begin with an oversized Carolina rig made with three feet of 120-pound fluorocarbon and a 10/0 Eagle Claw L2004 circle hook. This area has very little current, so an egg sinker of a couple of ounces will hold it in place. Oily fish like mullet or spot are good baits, and a rod and reel outfit capable of sustaining a good fight is a must.
"You've got to fish with the lines tight, and reel down tight at any sign of a bite," Beckwith said. "Be ready for a fight. Tarpon often go wild when they first feel the hook, and it might not slow until they are ready to be released."
Tarpon often bite like the bluefish that roam the same areas, and fishermen shouldn't mistake a tarpon's strike for a bluefish trying to steal a bait. Not paying attention will lead to missing tarpon or possibly allowing one of the big red drum that roam the same areas to swallow the hook – and neither is good.