This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
As to the best tackle for Tarpon-fishing, were all that has been discussed-oftentimes in such heated debate- chronicled, it would fill tomes. I have used, in all of my fishing, a strong, pliable, split-bamboo rod, eight feet in length. With this I have taken Tarpon weighing from one hundred and five to one hundred and forty-four pounds, and it has served the purpose admirably. It is a one-jointed rod, with the single joint near the butt. Many anglers prefer a short, stiff rod, ranging from six and one-half to seven and one-half feet, claiming that with one of this description the casting of the heavy bait is easier. My reels are multiplying ones of the very best quality and of the finest workmanship, made to order for me by Mr. James Deally, of Louisville. They will easily hold six hundred feet of fifteen, eighteen, or twenty-one thread linen line. One has the customary click and check, with a leather drag attached to the cross-bar. This has proved serviceable, but I think the second from Mr. Deally's workshop an improvement. Upon the right side of this reel there are merely the click and handle. Upon the left, beneath the body of the reel, and extending out convenient to the thumb, is a drag, which may be pressed upon at the will of the angler, so as to produce a heavy or slight tension. During the first frantic struggles of the Tarpon, ot course he must be allowed all the line possible, and it is my habit, at times during the conflict, to throw line out rapidly by seizing it between the reel and the first eyelet along the pole. A taut line is most to be feared in Tarpon-fishing^
I would say four out of five fish lost are traceable to this cause.
The line used varies from a fifteen to twenty-one linen thread. I use a fifteen-thread Cuttyhunk linen line, the fineness of which has inspired some of my friends, who pay very little attention to fishing, with serious doubts. I remember one young lady, who came in to inspect a mounted Tarpon in my office, remarked, with a great deal of naivete: "Well, Mr. Haldeman, I don't doubt you caught that fish; but really, you ought to change your line."
A most important and much debated portion of the Tarpon angler's outfit is the snood. A good snood is a safeguard against the scissor-like jaws of the Tarpon. The fish's teeth injure only by abrasion, but his jaws are massive and powerful enough to crush with ease the back of a hard-shell crab. Therefore, the snood should, obviously, be of a soft and pliable texture, rather than such as to offer any resistance. It should also be of ample length-at least three feet-for the Tarpon must be allowed to get the bait well into his gullet before he can be caught. When I began fishing, I used a snood made of piano-wire, and landed several Tarpon with it, which is contradictory to the statement of some authorities that the Tarpon will instantly detect the wire and spit it out. I abandoned its use for the reason that I found the cotton snood preferable and more economical, for where sharks capture so many of your hooks, the expense of wire snoods is by no means insignificant. For some time I have employed a treble braid of soft, yet strong, cotton line about the thickness of ordinary yarn. This cannot readily be frayed, and gives sufficiently to prevent being sawed or severed by the Tarpon's jaws. To prevent the fraying contingent upon playing a fish for an hour or two, some fishermen incase their snoods with rubber tubing. I am not aware how successful this has proved.
The other appurtenances to a complete outfit are plenty of Limerick or O'shaughnessy hooks and a gaff. I have used the O'shaughnessy hooks, and I believe they are generally employed.
A gaff is considered indispensable. I regarded it so until the loss of a fine fish caused me to change my tactics. After a battle of over an hour, during which my finny opponent had gone through the usual process of sky-scraping, astonishing spurts beneath the water's surface and the like, I had succeeded in getting him under perfect control and was bringing him to the gaff. My boatman, as boatman so frequently do, became flurried and made his strike in too great haste. I was not prepared for the final move; and the stroke, coming unexpectedly, entangled my line and, much to my disgust, enabled the Tarpon, which must have weighed one hundred and fifty pounds, to get away. Since, I play my fish, as usual, until completely exhausted, when I bring him to the side of the boat, and make the boatman run his hand and arm up his gills, out through the Tarpon's capacious mouth, and lift him gently into the boat. My new method has proved efficacious in every instance in which I have tried it, and hereafter I will exhaust my fish thoroughly, and use the gaff only on urgent occasions. Many a victory has been won, only to be thrown away by the awkwardness and lack of skill of an excited boatman.
Mullet is the bait universally employed in fishing for Tarpon. Unquestionably, they prefer it to other small fish, though I have had them take small Catfish, and the variety termed "Virginia Mullet" by the coast fishermen. These latter are sometimes called "Rat-fish," the head resembling that of a rat. They seem to run with the Silver Mullet, and I have frequently seen them caught in the gill-nets with which schools of the latter were surrounded.
Some fishermen use an entire Mullet on their hooks, but more generally cut-bait is employed. There is much room for experiment in the matter of bait. I have heard experienced boatmen, who have been engaged on the south gulf coast regularly for years, say that when hungry the Tarpon would bite at almost any kind of bait, provided it was fresh. One gentleman told me this past season that he had seen two Tarpon cut open, the stomachs of which were filled with hard-shell crabs. Another observer tells me he has seen Tarpon feeding, presumably, upon some sort of shrimp in a most peculiar manner. He says he has frequently observed them in shallow water, standing apparently on their heads, in reality, though, their mouths were buried in the sand extracting some kind of food. This odd position while feeding may be due to the peculiar location of the mouth. It is upon the upper side of the head. Some Tarpon anglers have expressed the belief that they take the bait in a similar manner.