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As much as I love chasing Snook, there is a special kind of thrill when I latch on to several pounds of juvenile backcountry tarpon on light tackle in creeks barely wider than my skiff.

The adventure begins with evenings on the computer at the dining room table. Step 1 is doing the homework on Google Earth to locate those small, nondescript creeks. Step 2 is making the early morning “0 Dark 30” run to find the creek. Once there, Step 3 is determining if I can even access the creek. Finally, once I’m there and commit to entering that creek, Step 4 is determining if tarpon are there and in the mood to play — that’s the final piece of the puzzle. The one thing critical for this game to work is the flow of water. It’s crucial that there is either an incoming or outgoing tide to help light up that bite. Studying tides is crucial. In those back creeks, tides may be two hours behind any tide station. Knowing this fact helps your planning. Now it’s time to poke through that creek to seek out their hiding holes and homes. In itself, this is quite an adventure and not for the faint of heart. One other interesting point is that you’ll launch at a saltwater location — whether Chokoloskee or Everglades City — and once back there, you’ll realize that you’re now fishing in nearly fresh water, which is so cool.

The size of these copper-colored backcountry critters dictates downsizing tackle. Most are no more than a few pounds, but some may be upwards of 15 or 20 pounds. Keep rods simple. A 6’6” or at most 7’ with a medium/fast or extra fast action is the ticket. I use the Bull Bay Banshee and Stealth for this environment, and they excel. Small 1/8-oz. or 1/16-oz. jigs are perfect along with 2/0 wide gap bass hooks with small bullet weights will increase hookup ratios on their small mouths. Downsizing the lure presented is also a must — 3-inch paddle tails are the norm, and when possible, a weedless presentation will prevent aggravation. These creeks are mine fields of blow-downs and roots. My color selection can vary, and water clarity and color is what I most use as a guide for choices. Back there, it’s mainly a stained coffee color or a strong tea color, so a darker lure is my usual go-to for at least the first few shots. The Zman MinnowZ in Rootbeer with the chartreuse tip and the DOA with the same combination has been a MONEY pattern, followed closely by the Zman MinnowZ in the Slam Shady color.

Now for technique… these creeks can be so narrow that favoring mangrove edges is not critical. Nice, easy and controlled casts down the center and deepest part is the game. The method is to simply mimic an escaping bait fish, so a steady and consistent retrieve will be the most productive. There is no need to jig the lures in here. The game is to make them WANT to eat and chase that lure. Be warned, folks! This is tight quarter, heart-pumping, addictive combat fishing. These fish fight beyond their size and weight class in these confined creeks, so you’ll need to be aggressive, firm and have no TV drag. To avoid the tangle of branches, roots and downfalls, you have to horse them to the boat quickly, fast and in a hurry! FYI: some possible bonus fish back there may include Snook, Largemouth Bass and Mayan Cyclids. Who can possibly hate that?

Final Words of Wisdom

This type of fishing may not suit everyone because of its logistics and difficulty, but if at all possible, it’s totally worth trying. My favorite personal comment to fishing buddies as we leave the ramp is “We’ll either get lost or stuck, BUT we’ll have a blast doing it!”

Give this a try and you, too, may become hooked on this passion of mine.

About the Author

Joe Garcia is the Brand Fishing Ambassador at Sunshine Ace Hardware.

Contact Joe for information on the hottest new fishing gear in stock, local fishing tips and more: JGarcia@SunshineAce.com.

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