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Tarpon report for the coastal Lowcountry


With more and more anglers targeting tarpon from Hilton Head on up to Georgetown, the results continue to be substantial. The recent Bonefish and Tarpon Trust efforts to tag an S.C. tarpon were successful, shedding new light into the travel of tarpon. All of this is remarkable considering that, from ten to twenty years ago, it was rare to encounter a tarpon, and today’s angler stand a reasonable shot at hooking up with the silver king.

Catching and releasing a tarpon offers high drama for the angler with an eye on conservation. While it is still legal to keep one tarpon in South Carolina, the bony tarpon is muscle-bound and offers no table value at all, leading 99 % of anglers to release them in good shape. The Lowcountry Tarpon Tournament on Sept. 14 and 15 saw a dozen boats target these game fish prized for their hard-fighting ability that often includes acrobatic jumps from the water.

September is a great time to fish, since the biggest baitfish in our estuary, the mullet, begins to school up in preparation for a southward migration when cold weather settles in. This mullet activity signals the big breeder tarpon to move in closer into our inlets in order to gorge on the mullet congregation. In one of nature’s great balancing acts, the mullet help the tarpon to bulk up before their own southward migration.

During the two days of fishing, a total of four tarpon were caught and released in what local guides called just average fishing for tarpon. One lucky tarpon was fitted with a $5000 satellite tag that was provided by the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT), and each time that tarpon comes to the surface, the tag will transmit location data to the satellite overhead. These tags are expensive, and it should be noted that all entry fees for this annual tarpon round up go directly to the BTT to pay for future tags.

In the end, it was Capt. Steve Roffs of Georgetown who guided his crew of three anglers to the release of two tarpon, taking first place bragging rights for the year. Along the way, anglers Ashley Coleman and Daniel Dunbar caught their first-ever tarpon while fishing with the experienced tarpon guide. Roff’s warned that, with people coming to our coast and finding consistent success, we might even become famous one day for our tarpon fishery.

Consider that in Florida, the long-time home of tarpon, bonefish, permit and other fish that prefer tropical water temps, there may be more tarpon to target, but the end result might not be as sweet. In Florida, the tarpon are generally in shallow water which serves to speed up the duration of the fight at times, and the size of the tarpon can range to include smaller fish. While in S.C. the tarpon tend to average around 100-pounds and if one of these mature tarpon head for the channels and waterways of the Lowcountry, then fighting them can take an hour or more.

A total of six tarpon from S.C. have been fitted with a BTT tag since 2010 and the work is scheduled to continue into the future. The marine scientists believe that there is a chance that these larger tarpon pursuing our local mullet run is a unique occurrence along the east coast and thus a perfect place to concentrate their resources. A huge tarpon fight can be considered the fishing experience of a lifetime, even if the end game is to release that fish to fight another day while helping to secure the future of that fishery.

If the coastal Lowcountry is in the early stages of a developing tarpon fishery, then it’s not too early to begin the conversation with SCDNR about future conservation efforts. Dedicated anglers want to know why it is still legal to keep and kill a tarpon in South Carolina, and they believe that better education about handling tarpon would lead to a wider respect for this ancient species. It’s true that the tarpon migrate into waters managed by multiple states, but S.C. conservationists must focus on our home waters to set an example for all where it concerns the issue of tarpon mortality.

           Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com.

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (360 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com