Florida Fish Species Breakdown | Fishing for Tarpon in Florida

Guide to Fishing for Tarpon in Florida

Tarpon is one of the most exciting game species you can fish for along the Florida coast. Remarkably powerful and massive in size are only a few ways to characterize these incredible fish. Many anglers may think only an exotic destination can produce fish of this caliber; however, some of the best tarpon fishing is relatively close to home. Fishing for tarpon in Florida tops the list as one of the top tarpon fishing locations in the world.

Tarpon, often called silver kings locally, put on show after show for anglers that have the chance to set the hook on one. This hugely popular Florida game fish is known for its highflying acrobats and fierce fights. Combine that with sizes that commonly reach 100 plus pounds and you have one of the most exciting fish battles you can handle. Let’s breakdown Tarpon fishing in Florida from where to find them to how to catch tarpon around the sunshine state.

A Brief Guide to Tarpon

Tarpon is a long, cylindrical fish with a thick body, forked tail, darker green or steel blue dorsal coloration with pronounced silver sides and belly. Their size can range from a few pounds to an average of around 50- to 75-lbs. Top tarpon fishing locations around southern Florida, however, consistently produce better than average size tarpon.

Fishing for tarpon is almost entirely for sport. Their unmatched acrobatics once hooked is a thrill for even the most experienced angler. Fishing for tarpon in Florida is a catch-and-release fishery. The state permits one tarpon tag per person only if that person is pursuing an International Game and Fish Association (IFGA) record. The catch-and-release restrictions in Florida waters are not an issue as tarpon are a bony and strong-smelling fish, which makes them almost unpalatable and difficult to eat.

A Tarpon feeds aggressively, which is one characteristic that makes them such a popular game fish. Even though they grow to impressive sizes, most feed on smaller prey like shrimp, crabs, and worms. Their main diet, however, consists of small fish such as mullet and sardines. Tarpon typically swallows their prey whole, which can make hook setting challenging for anglers not use to fishing for tarpon.

Best Tarpon Fishing in the World

The Florida Keys and the Florida Gulf Coast top the list when anglers talk about places to target record class tarpon. Florida may be the best place to tarpon fish, but their range includes the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean including around the Virgin and Cayman Islands and also scattered throughout the Bahamans. In the farthest reaches of their range, tarpon can be found as far north as Nova Scotia and south to the coast of Argentina.

Tarpon are unique in the sense that they can endure various habitats. Along Florida, they can be found in both salt and freshwater. It is not uncommon to catch large tarpon miles up freshwater rivers and within large coastal estuaries. Keys spots for fishing for tarpon in southern Florida are large shallow flats, inlets, channels and at the mouths of large rivers.

Florida Tarpon Season

The best tarpon fishing dates vary depending exactly where you are planning to fish. Tarpon is a migratory species and seeks out waters with temperatures in the mid-70s and above. They will follow warm coastal currents and move from area to area following schools of forage. There is no closed season on tarpon fishing in Florida. The tarpon generally arrives in the Florida Keys starting in March and as April approaches, they start to spread further north. In most years, fishing for tarpon in Florida is good from late March through late November until fish begin to migrate out of the Gulf and Florida waters to more southern Caribbean coasts.


Tarpon Fishing Tackle Recommendations

Fishing for tarpon in Florida can be accomplished successfully using an array of fishing techniques and tackle. Prime tarpon fishing areas like those in and around the Florida Keys will see many anglers using both fly fishing and spin fishing gear for tarpon.

Artificial lures are the most effective for catching tarpon. Small fish imitations like soft plastic swimbaits and hard baits such as twitch plugs and walking topwater lures prove most effective over the course of the Florida tarpon season.

Live bait is another option, particularly when the bite is tough or depending on where you are fishing. Live bait seems to work better in more inland waters where tarpon are actively following schools of baitfish. Sardines, pinfish, and mullet all work well when using live bait to fish for tarpon.

Fly fishing for tarpon also is a successful method for catching these fish. The best tarpon flies include ones like the Tarpon Sinking Toad, Gurglers and the Kreh’s Cockroach. In addition, baitfish imitators like streamers work well for sight fishing fish in shallower waters.

Tarpon fishing rods, reels, and line have to be beefy enough to handle not only large 100-lb fish but also handle energetic fights of smaller fish. Large 7-foot, medium to medium heavy action rods paired with 30- to 50-pound test fishing line on a quality spincasting reel is the standard when chasing tarpon off the Florida coast. Baitcasting reels can be used when fishing for tarpon in Florida, but they work best in more inland situations where tarpon are caught near structure and a reel with some more bite is required.

Fly rods for tarpon fishing vary depending on your style of fishing. Inland setups are typically a 5 to 7 weight fly rod matched with 10-to 20-lb bite tippet. As you move to more open water such as coastal flats or shallow offshore areas, bump up to at least a 9-foot 11- to 13-weight tarpon fly rod. Pair these rod setups with high-quality reels with an exceptional drag. Use 150- to 200-yards of 30-lb backing with a good fluorocarbon bite tippet. Carry several different tippet sizes to compliment the sizes and styles of flies you are planning to cast.

4 Tarpon Fishing Tips Everyone Can Use

  1. Tarpon is unlike any other saltwater game fish – Landing a tarpon is extremely difficult. Successful days are counted by the number of bites and fights rather than how many are landed because they are so challenging to get to the boat. Their hard, boney mouths make setting the hook tough. Remember to be sure to set the hook, continually apply pressure, and keep setting the hook as the fight pursues.
  2. Plan fishing trips for Tarpon thoroughly – A tarpon fishing trip is a big deal. Pre-planning your day or trip to Florida is important. Compile a trip checklist that includes all the gear you will need to be successful. This should include items like tackle, lures, clothing, and eyewear. Most importantly, decide and book a Florida tarpon fishing guide based on good reviews and recommendations.
  3. Know how to handle a tarpon – By law, tarpon over 40-lbs must be kept in the water. Even smaller fish should be cradled in the water to maximize their survival after being caught. Never pull a tarpon over the rails of your SeaHunter™ boat or grab them by the gills if possible.
  4. Don’t skimp on tackle – Fishing for tarpon in Florida will quickly test your tackle. These large fish and their fight will exploit any fishing tackle that is substandard. High-quality rods, reels, and line make a difference. A tarpon fishing trip is a worthy expensive so don’t cheat yourself by using lackluster gear that will not hold up when trying to land one of these fish.

To wrap up, fishing for tarpon in Florida is an experience unmatched by almost any other game fish. These massive fish put up incredible fights, which require top-end tackle and honed techniques to land. Take advantage of this great fishery off the Florida coast next time you are seeking to challenge yourself and try to catch one of these true monsters.