A trio of world-class Boca Grande fishing captains spilled their angling secrets Thursday at an intimate first Captains Forum held at Temptations Restaurant.
Capts. Tommy Locke on fly fishing, Eddie Potter on live bait and Sandy Melvin on traditional tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass held forth for 90 minutes on topics ranging from the health of the tarpon fishery (strong), optimum temps to fish Boca Grande Pass (72-75 degrees) and why jig fishing ought to be banned in Boca Grande Pass (harms tarpon spawn rhythms).
Melvin said concerns raised recently about the tarpon fishery are well placed but may have created some misconceptions.
Capts. Tommy Locke, right, on fly fishing; Eddie Potter, left, on live bait; and Sandy Melvin on traditional tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass.
"The tarpon fishery in Boca Grande Pass is healthy," he said. "They're pretty much here year round. We honestly have some of the best fishing in the world right here."
Prime tarpon season runs from mid-April through October, he said.
Boca Grande anglers enjoy seasonal fishing patterns involving kingfish, Spanish mackerel and cobia, too, he said.
Even the billfish largely absent near-shore Boca Grande can be found just 100 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, Melvin said.
"Not a whole lot of people do that," he said. "But it's really an untapped fishery out there."
Locke was the most animated of the speakers acting out anecdotes as if he was reliving the moments. A self-proclaimed sight-angler, Locke said the sun becomes even more important this time of year in catching fish.
"When you get in the late season as we are now," Locke said. "What happens is the sun is so low you only have a short time from 11 o'clock to, ummm, 3:30, as soon as you can't see them any more."
Locke said he wants his cients to be able to see the fish coming and make a proper bait presentation to the fish.
"Now he challenges the fish to eat the fly," he said. "Or he makes them eat it."
That's a special aspect of wetting a line in the Boca Grande Pass and other waters around Gasparilla Island - visibility.
"Sight fishing is one of the things that makes this area so special," Melvin said. "We can see the fish before we actually catch them. A lot of places you go you don't physically know if there's a fish there or not because you can't see them."
Sight fishing for tarpon is aided by their 6-foot length and 100-plus poundage, he said.
"It's an adrenaline rush to be catching a fish that you know, if he eats that fly, all hell is going to break loose," Melvin said.
Another marvel prevalent this time of year is the tailing redfish in the shallow crystal-clear backwaters, he said.
"The redfish will be down with their nose into the grass rooting around for shrimp or crab or something," Melvin said. "You'll see their tails out of the water. They are unaware they've left their tails out of the water."
After the talk, attendees were treated to a gourmet meal made by Chef Kevin Stockdale. Choices included filet mignon, bronzed grouper, jumbo Gulf shrimp and sides.
The time for the next Captains Forum has not yet been set, Melvin said. For more on the Captains Forum, see this week's Look Who's Talking interview inside.