The only members of the family Megalopidae, there are two species of Tarpon in the genus Megalops – the Atlantic Tarpon and the Indo-Pacific Tarpon. The Atlantic Tarpon is native to the Atlantic Ocean and can be found along the western Atlantic coast from Virginia to Brazil, including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. These are the fantastic Tarpon that we catch in Florida. They can also be found along the African coast from Senegal to South Angola. The Indo-Pacific species inhabits the eastern African coast, Southeast Asia, Tahiti, Japan and even Australia.
Adapted to survive in both saltwater and freshwater, Tarpon will swim inshore to access freshwater marshes via rivers, canals and ocean inlets. These fish are hardy and can survive in brackish water, varying pH levels and areas with low dissolved oxygen content. This is because they primarily use their swim bladders to breathe. Their habitat varies greatly depending on their stage of development. Their first life stage finds them close to the surface in warm, clear, oceanic water. The next two stages of development sees them seeking out salt marshes, creeks, rivers and tidal pools that are warm, shallow and dark with sandy mud bottoms. This is usually when they will travel inshore and as they reach adulthood, they often travel back into the open ocean even though there are many that prefer to remain in freshwater habitats.
Tarpons are majestic and well-respected game fish in Florida. These beautiful creatures can grow into giants measuring anything from 5ft to 8ft and weighing between 80lbs and 280lbs. Both dorsal and anal soft rays are present and they have stunning blue or green hued backs. Except for their heads, shiny, silver scales cover their entire bodies and they have very distinct lateral lines. Their mouths are broad and their lower jaw juts out noticeably further than the rest of their face and they have big eyes equipped with adipose eyelids.
Juvenile Tarpon absorb their nutrients from seawater and do not forage for food. As they grow, they progress into zooplankton feeders and begin feeding on insects and small fish. They will start consuming insects, fish, grass shrimps and crabs as they mature further. By the time they reach adulthood they are strictly carnivorous nocturnal predators and swallow their food whole.
Also called “The Silver King”, tarpon in Florida have become iconic fish. These predators are exceptionally powerful and are known to break cheap equipment with ease. Their fighting spirit is legendary and makes fishing enthusiasts seek them out excitedly. They will trash wildly and jump repeatedly in an attempt to break free of your line, often leaping ten feet into the air only a few feet from your boat. These massive fish are among the largest fish that you can catch without the need of a big boat because they are found so close to shore. This is how you can have success when tarpon fishing in Florida:
Bait for Tarpon
Tarpon can be caught on live bait, frozen bait and artificial baits such as lures. Our experience has taught us that live bait works best. Fish, shrimps and crabs form part of their common diet and regularly tempt these fish into biting hard. Tarpon have bone-hard mouths that are difficult to hook. Their incredible fight often dislodges hooks that have been partially snagged and they often throw them. This is why live bait works so well. When using lures, you will lose more than you land.
Tackle for Tarpon
Both light tackle and heavy tackle can be used to catch Tarpon. If you are an expert and in need of a bigger challenge, then you can catch individuals over 100lbs on an 8lbs test line – but we really do not recommend this for anyone else. 30lbs test line is light enough for a hearty battle yet heavy enough not to overtire the fish. Although braided line works, monofilament is better as it absorbs the shock of their powerful thrashing. We advise a medium-weight outfit with a very high quality spinning reel and sturdy circle hooks.
Techniques for Tarpon
Tarpon will happily chase lures but they are tricky to catch with them and will likely throw them back at you. Using live bait with quality circle hooks will give you the best chance of hooking them and landing them. Here are some ways to use these baits when tarpon fishing in Florida:
- Lures can be successful. It is not too difficult to hook Tarpon on jerkbaits but the treble hooks get dislodged with alarming regularity and very few are actually landed this way. They will bite almost any lure including poppers, jigs and soft plastic lures. Try using lures with a single hook as they are harder to dislodge and there is less leverage for the Tarpon to shake it loose. Remember that the heavier the jig, the more likely it is that they will throw it back at you. Lures that slide away from the hook can also work.
- Baits are the way to go. Live or dead sardines are perfect when rigged with a circle hook. Simply wait until the Tarpon is swimming off with your bait before putting the reel in gear. Then you can begin reeling to snag your hook in the corner to top of the mouth. These are two of the places where your hook might actually snag properly.
Tarpon will immediately leap into the air and start fighting once it has been hooked. We advise dropping the rod tip to slacken the line as soon as the fish is in the air. Otherwise known as “bowing to the king”, this is a one of the rare times when you want to have a slack line when fighting a fish. If your line is tight then the Tarpon will probably snap your line with its violent thrashing. These leaps are fast and sudden, particularly the first one, and this is not always easy to do. As soon as the fish re-enters the water then raise your rod and reel your line tight. Eventually the Tarpon will stop jumping. This is when you need to put as much pressure as possible while frequently changing angles. This method confuses the fish and will help you land it quicker. Simply applying continual pressure from a single direction is not enough. Tarpon will quickly figure out just how much resistance it needs to give you to avoid being reeled in. Try not to let them rest because they will come up, gulp air and start fighting all over again. Make sure that your line is constantly moving. If it is not peeling off your reel then you need to be reeling it in.
These almighty fish are incredibly bony and therefore do not make good dinner dishes. There are too many tiny bones and this is why these fish are released.
Call now to book your Tarpon Fishing Charter in Florida and battle their sheer power.