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Our Top Picks for Tarpon Bait

Are you looking for a little friendly fishing competition? Head out to the Atlantic Ocean with a few friends to see who can snag the largest tarpon. Prepare for a true challenge because this large silvery fish can put up one heck of a fight.

tarpon swimming

Adult tarpons can reach up to several feet in length and easily weigh in at a hundred pounds or more.

If you catch one of these monsters, don’t plan on chowing down because cleaning one is even more challenging than catching it!

Before you head out on a boat, it helps to make sure you are well equipped for what’s sure to be a battle. You need something to tempt those massive fish to take a nibble, meaning the best bait for tarpon fishing.


Who doesn’t love shrimp? Of course, tarpons prefer to eat it live instead of sauteed in butter, but to each his own. Just keep in mind that tarpon aren’t the only fish that will nibble at shrimp. 

person holding shrimp for bait

While shrimp might not hold up to repeat casts as well as other bait, it’s convenient and inexpensive. It’s so effective, they make lures for tarpon specifically to mimic shrimp.

You can easily find some at bait shops before heading out, and just as easy to keep it until you get out on the water (and after you’re done for the day).


One of the best bait for tarpon fishing is mullet. The small, lively fish attracts tarpon like bees to flowers, and even the pros use it. 

a whole mullet for bait

Mullet is one of the most durable bait options because it lives through repeated casts. Factor in that the mullet moves around a lot and stays near the water’s surface (so you don’t need to use a float), and it’s tough to find fault with it.

The only real drawback is that you can’t just pick up live mullet at a tackle shop, you have to catch it in a net.


Putting a pinfish in the water is the equivalent of somebody waving your favorite meal in front of your face.

pinfish for fishing bait

Plus, pinfish hold up well on the line. Pinfish are easy to catch, but you can find them at some bait and tackle shops. 

There are a few drawbacks to using live pinfish. They cost more than other bait, like shrimp, and you have to use a float because these little guys head straight for the ocean floor.

Pilchards and Threadfin Herring

If you’re not afraid of fragile bait, you might want to consider pilchards and threadfin herring. Few tarpons can swim away from this live bait, and that includes the big boys looking for their favorite snack.

pile of pilchards

Unfortunately, pilchards and threadfin herring are so fragile on the line. Plus, they are hard to catch, and you don’t tend to see them in bait shops. If you happen to net one, it is definitely worth giving it a try.


Speaking of favorite snacks, try waving a live crab in front of tarpons and see what happens. Most other fish will give the shellfish a hard pass.

blue crab for redfish bait

Plus, the hard exterior holds up for multiple casts, making it one of the most durable bait options.

The only drawback is that they are more expensive to purchase as bait and tougher to catch.


Ladyfish aren’t great for human food, but tarpon and other predators love them. You can use dead or live ladyfish, but a lively fish is apt to get more attention.

ladyfish for bait

That said, using bits of dead ladyfish on the ocean floor can net you some sizable tarpons.

Final Thoughts

Fishing for tarpon is perfect for anglers seeking a challenge. The lively and powerful fish can put up a fight and show off some acrobatic moves in the process.

If you’re up for the challenge, make sure you go prepared with the best bait for tarpon, just don’t get too excited about eating one if you catch it!

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