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Worm hatch gets the tarpon silly
By Dave Navarro
Posted-Tuesday, May 25, 2004 5:13 PM EDT

Take advantage when the fish

are acting up

The worm run may be coming. That's right, the annual worm run along the bayside of the area bridges may be happening as you read this. If so, you'll know by all of the excitement of tarpon anglers, as well as a rush to the tackle store to get the worm imitations to fish with.

So, what the heck am I talking about? I'm talking about the annual spawn of a worm called the palolo. They live in sponges all over the bay and release from them once a year to spawn. The key is that no one, not even the so-called experts, can tell you exactly when and where they will release. What we do know is they almost always do it following a full moon around late May or June, which is right now. They release on a strong outgoing tide toward the ocean, usually in the afternoon.

They are usually no more than an inch to an inch and a half long, with an orange body and greenish head. When they release, they float to the surface and wiggle like mad on their trip out to the ocean. The reason tarpon anglers are so interested in when they do this is because it causes one of the wildest natural phenomenons that we have here in the Keys.

The thing about these worms is everything eats them. When I say everything, I mean everything. I have had some I put in my bait well, and the live shrimp were beating each other up to get to them; pinfish were doing the same, as well as the crabs.

I have seen barracuda, sharks, snapper, bonefish, permit, grunts, cowfish, needlefish, ballyhoo, pilchards and, of course, tarpon slurping down as many as they could find.

What it apparently does to the fish is - take you choice of terms - gets them stoned or drunk. I mean Foster Brooks-style stupid. I have seen species that normally chase each other swimming side by side slurping worms without much care in the world.

What it does is bring all of these fish to the surface where the worms are swimming. You will see literally thousands of fish, mostly tarpon due to their size, casually swimming on the surface feeding on them. It's a great opportunity to sight-cast.

They will eat a bait, but if you happen to have a worm fly, which imitates the worm, your chances of a hookup are greatly increased. Over the years, we have developed a classic worm fly that depicts the swimming action as well as the coloration of the palolo worm. This can be used as a fly on a fly rod; or with the addition of a split shot up on the leader, it can also be used on spinning tackle easily.

Over the years, I have had great luck just slow-trolling these worm flies around the area and hooking numerous fish. Drifting and blind-casting has also done wonders. The fish are so plentiful during the run that you don't have to be too accurate to hook up on one. Then the fun really begins.

Like I said, these fish act like they are toasted. You may have a tarpon do one of their patented gallant jumps and right in the middle of the air, it seems like they forgot what they were doing and just stop moving. They hit the water with all of the grace of a fat man doing a belly flop. You wind up the line as you back the boat toward the still fish on the surface of the water, thinking that he just died or something. Just before you get there, he remembers what he was doing and off he goes again for another run and jump. It's wild.

As I mentioned earlier, not even the experts know exactly when and where the hatch will occur. It usually does not happen at all of the area channels at the same time or the same day. Most of the time, only a small section of a bridge will have the hatch going on, although it is not uncommon for several channels to have something happening the same day. The only way to be sure to hit it is to be there every afternoon when the conditions are right. The advantage of that is this is some of the best tarpon fishing, anyway, so you are not wasting your time if you don't hit a night without a hatch. But brother, if you hit it, you will remember the show for a lifetime.

One quick reminder that this week's free fishing seminar will be our last of the season. After this event, we will have a hiatus until October.

This week, we will cover a gamut of topics for summertime fishing and some of the fun we've had over the season. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at our Marine Educational Center, mile marker 50.

Capt. Dave Navarro owns the World Class Angler in Marathon and captains the charter boat 'Dave's Dream.'

1,677 Posts
Scott, My father and I made a trip to Key West over Memorial Day Week in 1982 and fish were everywhere. In 5 days of fishing, morning tide and evening tide, we C&R 52 tarpon. The last evening, things were setting up for another great evening. We were anchored up in the Northwest Channel, tide was just starting to move and the sun was setting. Perfection. Just about the time the sun disappeared below the horizon, the ocean came alive with tarpon, busting the water, free jumping, rolling, everything but hitting our baits. This frenzy went on for about 3 hours. We managed to jump one tarpon (1 jump) and catch a red grouper. This night was the hatch of the palolo worm. It was the most amazing and frustrating site I have ever seen. Soooo many fish, of all sizes, in one place and all they wanted was those little orange worms. It was unbelievable.
If you haven't experienced it, I hope you get a chance. Fortunately, it usually only goes on for one night, and for us it was at the end of the trip.

Tight Lines, AC
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