Catching Tarpon, Snook, and Redfish in the Florida Keys

The Ultimate Guide to Catch Them All

Florida is known for world class fishing. From huge silver tarpon to aggressive and sometimes tricky snook, to big bull redfish, Florida knows how to produce monsters.

Where to Catch Tarpon, Snook, and Redfish

Found in various waters across the state, some of the best fishing for any Florida species, including tarpon, snook, and redfish, is in the backwater of the Everglades. No doubt, the Everglades produce the biggest and baddest of these monsters. 

Going into the Everglades to fish can be a challenge, and often going deep into the Everglades requires experience and knowledge of a skilled guide, but the rewards are unbelievable fishing for many species. 

While certain areas of the Everglades are treacherous to navigate due to rocks and hidden oyster bars, it is often these areas where an angler can find the best of luck. Virtually endless waters hidden away from outside fishing pressure can produce size and number for tarpon, snook, and redfish, as well as other unique catches, as this area is home to over 300 species of fish.

Reading the Water

The first step to catching any fish, including tarpon, snook, and redfish, is knowing how to read the water. 

While blind casting miles of shoreline could produce fish, it more often than not pays dividends to stop and observe the water for a clue on where the fish might be. And not only where the fish might be, but too their behavior. Are they actively feeding? Are the predatory fish schooling bait? Or are the fish tucked tight into cover and not moving until something falls on their nose? 

Watch for any little hint on the water’s surface. A swell of water might indicate a rising hungry fish. Splashes on the surface could mean aggressively feeding fish or baitfish fleeing for cover. A little mud kicked up on the bottom could indicate a spooked fish fleeing but that the predatory fish are actively roaming to find prey. 

A lack of activity on the water’s surface could suggest that most fish are tucked into cover waiting to ambush prey, or that the conditions are not right in that area and you need to move to find the active fish. 

All clues on the water or water’s surface should be keyed into by an angler as they hunt their target species as it greatly ties into an angler’s success.

Tides

Tides are a massive factor when it comes to fishing in a coastal area. The Florida Everglades is no exception. Knowing what times to target fish during moving tides can be the huge factor between an okay day of fishing and an incredible day of fishing. 

Something to keep in mind, however, is how far you are fishing from the coast. Immediate coastal areas can have tides that fluctuate water levels 3 feet or more, while further inshore can have an average tide fluctuation of 8 to 12 inches. 

 

A strong north wind will blow water out and change water levels more drastically than tide does at times. A time of lower tide makes target species more available, and sometimes more aggressive as much of their cover is revealed during this time. 

Baitfish in times of lowered tide, lose their hiding spot as well. Actively hunting predatory fish take advantage of this, just as an angler should. Aggressively feeding fish equals an amazing day on the water. 

Likewise, if you were fishing during an area of high tides, the fish will be more spread out. Often lurking shallow in newly flooded structure or grasses, snook, redfish, or tarpon will push shallow to ambush baitfish that also moved up. Targeting these areas and keeping an eye on the water’s surface indicates a lot of clues to locating fish in high water.

Tips & Techniques to Land the Beast

Tarpon 

From sleek chrome scales that are nearly reflective to acrobatic fighting moves clearing feet out of the water when hooked, there is no doubt that tarpon are some of the biggest and baddest fish in the Everglades. A trophy sized tarpon is one of the most prized catches in Florida. 

While trophy sizes of any species can be hard to locate, there is still undoubtedly fantastic numbers of quality sized tarpon for anglers to target in the Everglades. 

Tarpon can be found lurking in channels or mouths of rivers stalking for baitfish. Like many predatory fish, think of and locate places of ambush to find the tarpon. Though tarpon can be found year-round in certain areas some of the best time to fish for them is mid-spring through July. 

The best lures to use for tarpon can range from soft plastic jerk baits, to live baitfish and shrimp, to large plugs. Fly fishing for tarpon is also extremely effective and large streamers or popper flies are typically used to entice tarpon into eating.

 

The key is to identify what the tarpon are feeding on, most likely though mullet, a silver-colored baitfish in Florida, is a pretty safe bet to imitate. 

It is a common saying that almost every angler has heard, “Match the Hatch”, but it rings true time and time again. Key into what the fish are eating, duplicate the look, movement and behavior of that prey and often success follows suit. 

Though targeting trophy sized tarpon involves heavy spinning or baitcasting rods such as the TFO Inshore Series in a 5 power or larger, or a 10-12 wt fly rod, it is possible to catch juvenile tarpon on smaller gear and also end up catching a variety of other species, including snook and redfish. 

Just be ready for when you do finally hook into a tarpon; when a tarpon is hooked, you are no doubt in for a show, often clearing feet of water with huge jumps. Tarpon tend to throw hooks easily with violent head shakes, so be prepared to lose fish. However, when you do finally land a tarpon in the Everglades, it is more than worth the effort.

Snook 

Snook are an extremely popular sport fish, and like the tarpon, have both size and numbers in the Florida Everglades. 

Hard fighting and often difficult to pull out of cover, the snook when hooked tend to run for the Mangroves. Often tangling and breaking off line, the best bet to landing a snook once hooked is to reel down and fight hard to get them into more open water. 

The key is to hold the pressure on them. Letting up on the pressure allows fish to head for cover, tangle your line, and get free. 

Snook can be found just about anywhere with trees, ambush points, or cover of some sort. The biggest of snook, however, are often found in surprising places. The smallest nook or cranny a snook can fit into is often where a large one will lay in wait for baitfish. Do not be afraid to cast your bait tight into cover or trees as you never know what monster could be hiding.

 

Though snook fishing can involve intricate casting, knowing how to read the water is equally important. A push, a wake, or a surge of water could all be indicators that there is feeding fish in the area. Pay attention to the water. 

Typical baits for snook are the classic soft plastic jerk baits, tube jigs, or bucktail jigs. Colors that seem to excel in catching snook are white or bubblegum colored. 

Fly fisherman can also easily target snook in the Everglades. Either a 7 wt to  8 wt fly rod is recommended but some fly fisherman do go up or down a weight depending on the size of snook they are after. 

Muddler minnow patterns or any sized streamer pattern in white are a go-to fly for snook. Poppers, as for tarpon, are also a staple of snook fishing as it indicates injured baitfish and therefore an easy meal.

Redfish 

A previously underrated fish species, the redfish is a copper-red colored drum species with an alluring tail spot, often thought to be a diversion from predators. Redfish have become increasingly popular as a sport fish and have more than a few die-hard anglers consumed by their aggressive, bulldog type fight. Some true trophy redfish lurk in Florida’s Everglades. 

Redfish are often attracted to oyster bars or shallow grassy flats and locating one of the two is a good place to start targeting them. Redfish are not too terribly picky and anything from shrimp, to worms, or minnow imitations work well. 

An extremely fun and exciting way to target redfish as well is on poppers. Like snook and tarpon, a topwater take from a redfish is heart stopping, to say the least. 

Fly fishing for redfish involves the typical baitfish streamers, as well as crawfish and shrimp imitations. A heavy fly rod, around an 8 wt or 9 wt is typically used, however, sizing up to a 10 wt rod or larger is great for also targeting tarpon.

Fishing Gear for Tarpon, Snook, and Redfish

The gear you take with you to target these species is essential to your success. Much of the gear, especially rods you own, can overlap and be used for different species. Though it does not hurt to have a few rods of the same power with different lures or leaders tied on to be ready to switch techniques or species at the drop of a hat. 

A dependable, well balanced rod is an absolute must in the Florida Everglades as there can be true monsters lurking. The last thing you want is to be underpowered and lose the tarpon, snook or redfish of a lifetime. 

One of the tried and true rods used by guides and anglers across the state is the TFO Inshore Series. The Inshore Series comes in a large variety of sizes to cover any fishing situation you may find yourself in while fishing the Florida Everglades. 

A great starting point is the TFO Inshore 5 power rod. This powerful rod casts anywhere from 1 oz to a 1.5 oz bait. Pair that with 12-15lb braid and you have a deadly combo for throwing a big plug for angry tarpon, snook, or redfish. 

Going with a more sensitive, medium light to medium rod such as the TFO Inshore 3 power or 4 power rod can help in casting soft plastics. It also helps with intricate casting under mangroves to deliver your bait exactly where you need it to entice a bite from any species. A lighter tip allows you to feel the action with your bait and detect even the lightest bite from a hesitant fish.

 

The leaders you use are vital to being successful on the water. Any fray in the line can end up costing you a fish, so make sure to bring many different sizes to repair old leaders or tie lighter or heavier ones based on the conditions you are fishing. 

For lures, sometimes the saying “the more the merrier” is true. However, often times the traditional tried and true staples such as white jerk baits and soft plastic flukes, topwater poppers, and jigs in various sizes are all that’s needed to have a fantastic day catching fish.  

It is not always about the lure so much as it is about what the angler does with it paired with the knowledge of locating fish that determines success. Which is why it is vital to match your lures to the proper line and rod to make your presentation as realistic as possible to fool fish. 

The quickest way to being successful on the water is being prepared. By matching your bait size and line size to the power rod you are using, you can put the odds in your favor.

Learning how to catch tarpon, snook, and redfish breaks down to reading the water, knowledge of tides, choosing the right gear, and lastly– getting out there.

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