Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle

Information Page.

Fishing in Tobago.

Two of my foreign epals, Boris and Robert, have been to Tobago again (lucky devils) and sent me accounts of their (separate) trips. Both apologise for their English but they are excellent writers. The interesting thing is that they seem to have been there only about a week apart (Boris last week in September, Robert first week in October) and the accounts could hardly be more different. It shows how chancy fishing is wherever you go in the world and possibly how different angler's perceptions may vary. First Boris, who went first -

Hi Mike,

I spent another one-week holiday with 2 fishing pals (this time fishing only) in Tobago. I came back about 3 weeks ago. In the last few days I found some time to write about our experiences... So, as usual, no good English but hopefully readable for you in all it's meanings.

On our last stay in April, we saw only "a handfull" of tarpon hanging around. So we hoped in advance that this time (rainy season) there would be plenty of the giant "herrings". What a fallacy! There were again only very few tarpon (that we could see) at the favoured places. I think the main reason was the absence of bait fish. There were so few sprats available around the island, that some fishermen (live-bait fishers) quit going out. At the jetties was the only place we could catch sprats on some days in reasonable sizes and numbers with our cast net.

Back to our fishing. We fished every dusk and dawn except one day when we went out with a fisherman from Castara. This stay we fished as usual mainly with lures but we also had a few attempts with live-bait. We experienced that dawn and dusk wasn't the key for success. Nearly all of our fishes were caught later in the morning or earlier in the evening. We tried two dawns from the beaches plugging without success and several dusks also without much success. On the flats we tried our best to catch some bonefish. Interestingly nearly exactly one year ago, I always had success in the morning. This time we didn't manage to catch even one in at least 4 attempts! (2 mornings-, midday-, evening-sessions). The only bonefish we saw was a dead one washed up the beach.

Also we didn't catch any Snook this time. I only had one follower, which was small. In the Englishman's Bay we saw two Jack Blitzes, one from boat and a second at about 10 o'clock in the morning on the right side of the beach. We all had to run a few meters to reach the area where the fish were active. What a pity that we arrived too late to get a hook-up!

Typical jacks - ML

Jacks - We had a few Jacks from shore up to 3-3.5 kg all from the same bay. This was the only place where we saw small brown noddys and pelicans hunting for sprats. Because of that we walked far out to where the flat/reef drops off to a few meters. It was very hard standing on the stones fighting every wave. My new and hopefully saltwater resistant Shimano Twinpower SW was a good investment since my equipment and myself got washed a few times by big waves.

Tarpon - One day we saw a few tarpon rolling around midday. This time we had luck at the jetties catching sprats. We free-lined them on a 4/0 Circlehook, standing in waist-deep water. I had 3 takes all of which I lost! My friend caught a small Tarpon of maybe 15-18 lbs.

I lost all of my fish because I was using 0.60 mm hard mono which always got rubbed by the horny plates. I didn't know that a tarpon would rub through 20 kg hard mono!

For the following attempts we switched to short wire traces. I don't know if it was because of the (decent) wire leaders but we didn't manage another take!

Although we were using circle hooks, none of our Tarpon had the hooks in the corner of it's mouth. (we didn't wait long to tighten the line after feeling a take - maybe 2-3 seconds). I lost a really big one (for me) of maybe 40-50 lbs. It was amazing seeing him jumping out of the water. By his 3rd or 4th jump the line went slack and after reeling in I could see that the trace was totally rough at the end where the hook was supposed to be. Damn!

I managed a baby-tarpon of maybe 4-5 lbs in Little Englishman's Bay on a small Rapala countdown. Sadly the fish was hooked in one of his eyes. When I was thinking about what to do with the fish, a guy was running towards us. It was clear that he saw me fighting the fish and he was after it. I told him that tarpon has a lot of bones and an oily taste but he was convinced that it is good for eating.

This time I learned a lot about tarpon fishing. Never use hard mono below 0.8mm. We used 0.60mm which was absolutely no problem for the Tarpon to get through... After I discovered this we switched to short wire traces. Although we had a few more attempts at different places we didn't get another bite. I don't think that the wire trace was the problem, but who knows??? We used 4/0 circle hooks this time and every take was a hook-up. What a pity that we had to learn about the leader which we have to use in the future!

Barracuda - We tried some different rocky/reefy places with all kind of lures. Nothing! We saw one small barracuda when a friend of mine was landing a small jack. The barracuda was after it... Except for this little fellow no contact. On our last day (we left the island in the afternoon) we were having a look at the sea... Suddenly my friend was screaming "Riesen barrakuda!" (Big ....!). My other friend and I climbed quickly out of the car and headed toward the cliff. Then we saw "him". A barracuda of a size which I've only seen on pictures or in videos. 13m to 1,4m long, swimming just under the surface 20m from the shore in murky water.

We all three tackled-up in olympic record time. When we were all ready no fish was in sight any more... So we blind casted...still standing 5 m above the shore on the cliff. I waited for the other 2 to finish their casts then I threw in my big popper. It landed on a sandy and murky patch in the water. After 2 cranks a biiiig head came out of the water and .....missed my popper. ...we didn't get another take from this big fish and the fish disappeared. That’s fishing!

On our very last fishing session we found a school of small cero mackerel in a small bay very close to the rocks. We caught a few ones but they all were quite small and no problem on our tackle, BUT another species which I only had once on Tobago.

Offshore-Fishing trip with Eldon (fisherman from Castara) I've fished with Eldon - he's a star. ML We started at about 7 o'clock in the morning at Castara heading for the "Three Sisters" (offshore rocky islets). My 2 friends were trolling blue mackerel Xraps, I was fishing a green mackerel Xrap. I outfished them in the first 3 hours with maybe 6 or 7 fish for me (kingfish, horse-eye jacks, greenback jacks, bonito) to one or two fish each for the others. It was clear that the green pattern was better than the blue! By midday fishing got a bit slow and we switched to deeprunners. We all managed a few more red snapper and kingfish. Best catch of the day was a nice 10-12 lbs horseeye jack which I caught on a deeprunner in front of the Sister Islands. Nice game on a light rod!

On our way back from the Sisters to Castara, I was trolling a 1-2 lbs bonito for barracuda close to the rocks. But nothing happened....

Altogether, we had about 10 Snapper, 5 Kingfish, a few bonito and maybe 5 or 6 Jacks. Although we were nearly 10 hours on the small boat it was an enjoyable trip (at least) for me.

In summary we had a nice week at my second home. The weather was very good (sunny, sometimes some clouds and not much rain). The swell was in flood times sometimes too high. We could have caught some more decent fish, but well you can't force catching fish.

I don't know why but I was so keen I can't understand why we didn't catch any bonefish this trip. The conditions were perfect. We tried it on different tides at very low water or at extreme high water. Absolutely no luck.

Tarpon situation: Do you think that it is an impact of fishing tourism that the Tarpon got less in numbers or is it just because that there wasn't enough food for them?

See Robert's account which follows

Thanks to Operation Sea-Angler and your posts about fishing on the south coast of England I look at beaches where I fish in a different way. There were huge piles of seaweed at the flat beaches in Tobago but no "maggots". I hoped so much that there IS something inside the weed which is washed out at hightide, so that maybe bonefish will come to harvest it. But perhaps not!

So that's one trip then a few days later Robert wrote -

Hi Mike,

I'm back from a week long stay in the tropics and I've thought you might be interested in how I got on with the fishing.

This was my fourth visit to the island of Tobago geared up with tackle to chase the fish and I could never really complain about the results in the past but this time it was something different as the fishing was absolutely fantastic.

The prevailing conditions were just so much different from what I'd experienced during my previous "dry season" visits. The sea was generally much calmer with full of life. There were some quieter beaches but most were heaving with fish of all kinds. As a good indicator the bait fish and the birds were hanging around for the length of my stay.

First I would like to mention the species I could've caught if I had been better prepared or "luckier".

Bonefish. They were plentiful on the flats. It was really easy to spot them as they were often "sunbathing" in the shallows a mere meter off the shore. At times I saw schools of 6-10 fish in several patches along the shoreline. The bigger ones usually appeared alone and were less reactive to my presence.

I had only two sessions for bonefish using my homemade jigs and shallow diving plugs. Despite the fact that I had one good bonefish take on a Maria plug I swiftly had to switch to using jigs because almost every cast of mine was greeted by a barracuda strike as soon as the plug hit the water. The jigs proved to be much less enticing to the cudas and more effective for the bones but due to their size (designed for snook) they were only able to grab the tail of the jigs by the dressing bucktail, feathers etc. ( I know from previous experience that the bones grab the plug, jigs etc on the tail-end ) I should've been prepared for this shouldn't I?

Tarpon. My favorite fish of all. I love them for their fighting power and the display they put up. They came in for the last days of my vacation and could be seen throughout the days lazily feeding on huge shoals of sprats in murky, sandy waters. No matter what I tried it was completely ignored. Not even a single hook up. Very frustrating. I even rushed to get some live sprats from the local guys but by the time I got back they had died so I ended up using them as dead baits for free lining. Not even a sniff.The only creature that showed some interest in my efforts was an ugly looking moray eel which messed up my tackle so bad that I had to re-rig the whole thing. Rupert said I could've stood a better chance trying flying fish but this time of the year they were very hard to come by. Still a great experience just to see them in such large numbers. Some of them were easily over 100-150 pounds. Well I'll be back for them for sure!!!!!

Now something about the ones I hauled in. As previously mentioned, in accordance with the bonefish, the barracuda were so plentiful that if I had four hands using two rods I probably could've played two at once. Nothing of a monster size here but exciting fights and good fun. The first few got hooked on a Slug-Go which proved to be a real killer for the cudas. But as it turned out they weren't barracuda proof (very obviously judging by the material). I lost a fairly big specimen as the single hook simply couldn't withstand the power of the fish anymore.

I also landed some small and medium sized horse eye and crevalle jacks. The big ones must've been somewhere else during my stay.

One bay produced a beautiful mahogany snapper while I was desperately trying for snook. The only snook I came in contact with was a real monster but unfortunately it didn't stay attached too long thanks to its jumpy behavior my trebles were shaken off in a matter of seconds. the same place produced another lost fish well worth mentioning, an enormous barracuda which totally destroyed the tail end of my mag popper plus it straightened my XXXX strong Owner middle trebles. The take was unbelievably powerful. I caught some big-big cudas before but this one was something different. Me and my girlfriend just stood there in awe. When I think of it one thing springs to my mind , a scene from your Caribbean DVD where you get spooled at the same spot by something huge.A jack!!!! ML I guess that's fishing in Tobago, Mike.

The highlight of the trip was landing a 90cm long bull shark. What a fight it was in the shallows. Also I'll never forget its aggressive behaviour while I was removing the hooks.

On my last morning I went down in search of some snook. Instead of them I bumped into a feeding frenzy of ladyfish. What a last morning it was. In a short period of time I hooked about 6 and pulled in three incredible fighters. A real workout on a light tackle for sure. Again in my estimate I could've caught as many as 10 if I hadn't been in a hurry to move on to make a final attempt to catch a tarpon.

I cannot even imagine how many fish could've been caught if I had a fishing partner. You know it is always better to fish in a company and not only for having somebody to take the pictures but two people can employ two different methods at the same time which definitely improves the chances of success.

The week was over much too soon, I wish I could've stayed longer.

All in all an excellent vacation with excellent fishing.

Tight lines!!


What do you make of that? As I said two very different perceptions. Perhaps they went to slightly different beaches and fished in different ways but the Island isn't all that big and there must have been a fair amount of overlap. Anyway, clearly a good time was had by all and no one expects to catch fish all the time, do they?

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


not made to withstand barracuda.'


Taken on a plug - presumably aimed at bonefish.'


Again plugged.'


I love these fish.'


I had a good one follow a Rapala one time - it put the wind up me.'

Close up.

Beware those teeth eh!'


My least favourite tropical fish.'


These little fish fight like stink.  Must try to catch one on the fly sometime.'