Tarpon Fishing in Florida...
Battle the Silver King!
Does tarpon fishing in Florida waters sound attractive? Does the thought of doing battle with the Silver King make your heart race in anticipation?
If so, you're in good company. Every spring and summer, quite a few sportsmen plan Florida fishing vacations around the prime tarpon fishing months.
Many anglers travel to Florida to take part in a tarpon tournament. There are over a dozen tarpon tournaments held annually in Florida; one of the most popular tournaments is the Gold Cup, specializing in fly fishing and held in the Keys, while another tournament held in Tampa Bay dates back to the World War II days.
Want to know more about the Atlantic tarpon found in Florida waters? We'll tell you about this great fighter; when and how to fish for tarpon; and a few of the best spots for tarpon fishing in Florida.
Florida Fish Identification: A Little About Tarpon
There's just two types of tarpon in the world; the first calls home the Pacific coastal areas of Japan, east Africa, Austrailia, and southeastern Asia The second tarpon variety, found in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters surround Florida is sometimes know by its official scientific name: Megalops atlanticus.
Adult tarpon are silvery colored, with greenish to blue-gray colored backs, with oversized platelike scales and a deeply forked tail. The tarpon’s single short dorsal fin originates just behind the origin of the belly fin.
When viewed underwater, they appear to shimmer like majestic ghosts as they swim calmly by.
This striking appearance, together with their impressive size and fighting ability, has earned the tarpon the respected nickname, “Silver King.”
The official state record for tarpon fishing in Florida is 243 pounds. That trophy was caught off Key West back in 1975, a record still holding today. The world record for tarpon was set not so long ago in 2003, when a tarpon landed off the coast of Africa weighed an astonishing 286 pounds, 9 ounces, and sported an amazing 7 1/2 foot length from nose to tail fork.
Tarpon possess a unique feature most other fish don't have - a swim bladder. This organ acts like a lung, allowing them to actually breath oxygen and survive in very unhospitable habits. Very young tarpon are found anywhere from brackish waters, stagnant and even fresh water - places where you wouldn't expect any fish to survive, let alone a saltwater variety - but the swim bladder enables them to breathe where other fish could not.
At a couple feet in length, the larger juvenile tarpon use the swim bladder to survive and thrive in a wide variety of waters far from predators like shark, and move back towards inshore waters in bays, deeper canals, and upper rivers as they mature.
Juvenile tarpon join the adults anytime between 7 to 13 years of age.
The swim bladder makes adult tarpon easy to spot when they come to the surface and "roll" to gulp a breath of oxygen.
The tarpon's very large mouth curves upward and outward, with a bony plate in the lower jaw that makes it difficult to set the hook.
Tarpon lifespans are up to 30 years old for the males, while the females may live as long as 50 years.
Following the first full moon in the spring, tarpon begin getting together in coastal waters, coming in from offshore waters. The tarpon congregate in an interesting prespawn rite known as the daisy chain, which is a dancelike ritual consisting of groups of the fish swimming in closely grouped, circular patterns.
Observations by scientists and anglers suggest that the tarpons' offshore journey to spawn is most likely triggered by the full moons and tides.
Tarpon Fishing in Florida: Seasons
When's the best time to travel to Florida for tarpon action?
The spring and early summer months are the primary times to search out and catch the mighty tarpon.
During the spawning months of April, May, and June, the tarpon fishing action in Florida is redhot.
After the end of June, the spawn is mostly over but tarpon are still plentiful - if you know where to look, that is.
Tarpon swim north for many miles offshore to spawn, then slowly make their way south afterwards.
Tarpon returning from spawning have lighter colored, green backs and are very hungry; these are your best chance of landing a trophy tarpon.
Where to find the best tarpon fishing in Florida
You'll find tarpon along Florida beaches; in the shallower flats; surfcasting from beaches; and around bridges.
While tarpon migrate along both the east and west coasts of the Florida peninsula, the Gulf Coast side, south down to the Keys, seems to routinely have the heavier population of tarpon.
Tampa Bay fishing action is so good for tarpon, both in season and out of season, that there are more than a few charter fishing captains that special in fishing for tarpon for most of the year.
All year long, tarpon fishing in Florida is just fine the farther south you're fishing. You have better than even chances on a south Florida tarpon fishing trip to the Florida Keys.
Marathon in particular is well-known by anglers traveling to Florida on fishing vacations for the explosive tarpon fishing around the bridge channels.
Brave vacationers stop by Robbies in Islamorada for the daily tarpon feeding, which is also a chance to take a closer look at the tarpon before your fishing expedition.
Other celebrated tarpon fishing in Florida “honey pots” are found at the Boca Grande Pass in southwest Florida and Homosassa.
Check out this tarpon fishing in Florida video shot at Boca Grande:
After spawning, many tarpon continue to move northward along the coasts. Not all the tarpon make it as far north as say, Apalachicola or Jacksonville.
Many tarpon eventually stop traveling, drift away and end up hanging out in bays, rivers, bridges, and harbors until colder weather drives them southward again. This makes the postseason tarpon fishing in Florida very productive - if one knows where to find them.
Tarpon Fishing in Florida Tips
What You Need to Know to Land One
Tarpon aren't edible, so you'd better plan on catching something else for your dinner.
Look for Tarpon when they break the water's surface to "roll" and suck a small amount of air into their swim bladders; at times they will break the surface with a dorsal fin.
State fishing regulations in Florida permit a 2 fish harvest per day, per angler, when tarpon fishing in Florida. If you want to keep a trophy, you'll need to buy a kill tag.
Be selective in the fish you pursue; choose fish coming back from spawning, who will be exrra hungry after the long round-trip trek to spawn. Remember, tarpon whose backs are greenish are the ones most interested in your bait.
Tarpon with darker colored backs have either not yet traveled offshore to spawn, or have already returned and been feeding for awhile. These won't take your bait as readily as tarpon with green backs.
Tarpon traveling north after the end of May are those returning from spawn and should show greenish backs and are your best bet for a hungry fish. You'll want to pass over tarpon traveling in a southerly direction as they most like haven't been to the spawing grounds yet and won't be so easy to entice to feed.
Tarpon are noise sensitive; if the waters are overcrowded with boats using power motors, they become less like to take bait. Once you've spotted your target, it's best to shut off power motors and use electric trolling motors to position yourself before casting. On the flats, it's best to stick to poling or using minimal electric motors; flats tarpon are spooky.
The best time of day to fish for tarpon is said by many pro's to be at night. Tarpon are more active at night. Fishing from and around bridges is popular at night, when angler's lights draw many fish, including the tarpon that are hunting the smaller fish.
For those who enjoy fishing along the beach from the water, or anglers out to try a little surfcasting for tarpon, fish from dawn and during the morning hours.
Sight fishing in the Florida flats is best done while the sun is first up and on through the early afternoon hours; the sunlight during those hours helps you to more easily spot and target the tarpon.
Here's another video of tarpon fishing in Florida. The young man is as cool as any professional tournament angler. What a nice catch!
Tarpon Fishing in Florida
Tackle, Baits, and Techniques That Work
Conventional rigs: Use a medium spinning rod. The reel should be capable of holding 250 yards of 20-pound test. This setup is standard for landing fish averaging 100 pounds but ranging upwards to 200 pounds. Hooks should be heavy duty and very sharp, for the best chances of setting the hook in the tarpon's tough jaw. Use an 80- to 125-pound-test leader with a length ranging from a foot to six feet, depending on your preferred techinque.
Flyfishing: Flyfishing is especially effective in the flats, but don't try the flats if you've never caught a tarpon on fly. Why? You need to be able to cast accurately over great distances with heavier tackle. The beach is a better place to try for those with with less experience. Use a 12- or 13-weight fly rod, with a high quality reel and a nice smooth drag. 300 to 500 yards of 30-pound test ought to be enough line. Popular flies are purple, blue, and brown cockroaches.
Baits: An outstanding bait for tarpon fishing in Florida is a live blue crab. The preferred size is two and a half to four inches. Some like to fish them with no weight or float, but others use them. Palm-size pinfish, herring, and grunts are also effective live baits. Pinfish and shad used as dead bait will often be outstanding bait. Top tournament anglers prefer menhaden, but the location of the schools, and the proper usage of this baitfish are closely held information. Many experienced tarpon fisherman use a piece of plastic or a feather as bait. Some professionals recommend the Cotee Liv' Eye action jig with a 4 inch shad tail. Another popular lure is the 65M Mirrolure, used on the beach, and the 52M Mirrolure fished on the flats. Best color choices are green, red, or flame.
Effective live baits for tarpon fishing in Florida in the off season are shrimp and hand-size fish. During quarter-moon tides, seasoned anglers will use something special to liven up the bridge fishing action: fresh dead menhaden, weighted and cast into bridge pilings. To further entice the tarpon, chunks of menhaden are chummed into the water uptide from the bridge. The effect is like opening the lid to your barbeque grill during a tailgate party; the scent goes everywhere, and, just like hungry football fans, the tarpon are ready to feed.
Techniques: If you're fishing for tarpon off the beaches and in the shallow flats, patience is important! If you insist on bringing the fight to them, tarpon just might go spooky on you and refuse to take your bait. Stake out a likely area, watch for signs of tarpon coming your way - and wait!
If you're in a boat, turn off your gas-powered motor as soon as you spot a group of tarpon, and use a pole or an electric trolling motor to get into position. Try to get ahead of them if you can, and as we've said before, stay patient and wait for the fish to get within 50 feet. Cast directly off the bow and not directly at the fish. If fishing off the beach, this lets your bait sink 8-10 feet, just barely above the tarpon's head and line of sight.
It's a common mistake to fire your shot directly at rolling fish. Surface tarpon don't often bite, but the ones below do. Dropping a bait on a tarpon's head or laying your line across one's back will spook that fish, which spooks the school, too. Also, plopping a bait on the surface or just below doesn't mean that the tarpon feeding at the bottom will see your bait.
Overcasting is usually a good idea. You can always reel the bait back toward the fish quickly and silently. This technique also works well on spooky flats tarpon.
In the off season, tarpon are found most commonly around bridges. Herrings and sardines drifted through the shadow lines and pilings of bridges will get you a tarpon during the full moon and new moon tides.
For more information about some of the best locations in Florida to fish for tarpon, we recommend you pick up a handy
waterproof fishing chart to help you fish the inshore waters of Florida.
Thanks for visiting our review of all the great tarpon fishing in Florida. Be sure to read our review of Florida snook fishing.