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Everything You Need To Know About Tarpon Fishing In Florida

Tarpon Fishing in Florida is an amazing experience, and if you are an angler that lives in Florida or that is planning a trip here, you should definitely give it a shot.

Everything You Need To Know About Tarpon Fishing In Florida

The population of Tarpon in Florida is pretty impressive, but not just because there are lots of fish, but also because they can grow to be pretty big.

This species is also known as the silver king, and it is well known for its acrobatics on the end of the line. Interestingly, these fish are capable of jumping up to 10 feet out of the water, all while putting up a hefty fight.

tarpon lures

The reason why there are so many Tarpon’s in Florida is that their ideal temperature range for water is between 74 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The mild weather is perfect for these fish.

If you want to find out more about Tarpon fishing in Florida, you have come to the right place. Just keep reading to find out more.

How to Catch Tarpon

Now that you know where to find these fish, you are probably wondering about the best ways to fish for Tarpon.

tarpon swimming near school of fish

If this is your first time, you might want to team up with someone that has some experience with Tarpon to help make the experience easier.

However, there are lots of different approaches to Tarpon fishing, which we will explain below.

Natural and Live Bait

You will typically get the best results with natural bait during the ebb tide. You will need to position yourself up-current and allow your bait to drift towards the fish. There are lots of options when it comes to tarpon bait as well.

tarpon school

You should double the end of your line at about 6 ft with a Bimini Twist, then proceed to attach around 8’ of 100 lb mono with a swivel.

Make sure that you don’t forget to use sharp hooks to get through the fish’s bony mouth. This is actually the main reason why most fishermen land only about 1 in 5 takes.

Shrimp and Crabs

Shrimps are one of the best things to use as live bait. You can hook a large shrimp under its horn on the head, or you can thread it and freeline it. You should avoid using floats, as this will make it difficult for the shrimp to be able to swim naturally.

person holding a shrimp for fishing bait

Your hook size should be  2/0–4/0. You can also opt for using crabs instead of shrimp. You will need to remove their claws and hook them bottom-up. All that’s left to do is cast towards your target fish and allow the bait to slowly sink in front of it.

Smaller Fish

You can also use other fish like pilchards, mullet, and pinfish for bait. All you need to do is hook in the bait fish behind the anal fin or in front of the dorsal fin. This is to ensure that they stay alive for as long as possible.

ladyfish for bait

If you are anchored, you can hook the bait fish on the tip lip and behind the head. You should use a 6/0–10/0 hook, depending on the size of the fish, and a large float above the bait.

You can use both live and dead fish as bait on the flats, and you can even use cut-up pieces of mullet. You will need to adjust the float to keep bait fish out of the grass, and cast often and in front of a single Tarpon. Don’t cast directly at them. Instead, cast nearby where they can notice it but not become startled.

Artificial Lures

If you prefer using artificial lures, or you don’t want to use live bait, you will need to work or troll your lure very slowly. 

TechniqueRodReelLine
Spinning / plug casting
(in open water)
7 InchesSpin or conventional250 yds of 12-15 lb mono or braided
Spinning / plug casting
(around mangroves, bridges and piers)
7 to 8 InchesSpin or conventional150 yds of 30 lb mono or braided
Inlet and Surf8 to 9 InchesSpin or 4/0 conventional300 yds of 30-50 lb mono or braided
Fly fishing9 to 9.5 Inches
and 11 to 13 Weight
High end reel
with good drag
300 yds 30 lb Dacron backing plus
100 yds 25 lb mono shock absorber

It is usually best to use artificial lures on flats, and you can use a lighter line and cast close enough to sighted fish for them to be able to see your lure. Spinning lures and plugs should be retrieved slowly, letting the lure sink, then intermittently pulling the rod tip and reeling in the slack.

When you are fishing in canals and rivers that are connected to saltwater, you can use Rapalas, Rebels, and round-headed Crappie Jigs.

If you are  fishing with jigs or other artificial lures, you will need to make sure that the lure is not weighted, so it will hang below the hook once the line or leader is held vertically.

Fly Fishing for Tarpon

Fly fishing for Tarpon is the ultimate challenge. However, this is also something that is going to require a lot of patience, strength, and skill, which is worth keeping in mind.

saltwater fly fishing

When you are choosing your tackle, you should remember that the color of your fly will depend on the color of the bottom. 

Flies should be between 3 and 5 inches long, with 2-2/0 hooks for juveniles, and up to 5/0 for larger fish. You will also need to choose a streamer that has a good contrast with the bottom of the fishery.

Orange, yellow, and red patterns are perfect for sandy bottoms, and light grey, blue, and green are better for over dark grass.

Man saltwater Flyfishing With A Guide

When Tarpon are found feeding on mullet, 7 to 9 inch white flies with dark stripes are good to use. You should be sure to slowly retrieve your fly in 6 to 12 inch segments. You will then need to speed up and twitch more if the fash starts following in order to entice a hit.

You should avoid fly fishing for Tarpon around bridges, as you are more likely to lose your catch on surrounding obstacles.

How to Hook a Tarpon

As we have previously mentioned, the bony mouth of the fish makes it quite difficult to set the hook well. You should know that you can’t rely on a hook being sharp enough when it has come straight out of the box, and so you might need to give them an additional sharpening.

Another issue with hooking Tarpon is the fact that they have an explosion-like strike, and it is easy for an inexperienced angler to try to set the hook too soon. 

However, you shouldn’t let this put you off, as there are some methods that you can adopt to try and avoid making mistakes when you are trying to fish for Tarpon. When it comes to natural bait, you should wait to feel the bite. 

When you do, you should take in the slack line and wait until you feel the weight of the fish. Now, strike hard twice and wait a few seconds before you set the hook. Waiting will allow you to ensure that the bait is definitely in the Tarpon’s mouth. 

If you are using hard lures, you should strike as soon as you feel the weight of the fish at the end of the line. Fly fishermen will sometimes make the mistake of striking as soon as they see the fish eating the fly, but this is too soon.

You should only set the hook when you feel the weight of the Tarpon. 

If your prey takes the fly when following it, you should stop stripping for a moment to let the fly go deep into the fish’s mouth. Only then is it time to strike. If the fish takes the fly while swimming towards you, you should set the hook several times in quick succession.

If you are unsure how to properly set your hook, you should keep your rod tip close to the water, with the rod butt tightly secured against your belly. You will need to quickly rotate your body, making the rod move sideways, while the line strips in hard.

You will also need to prepare yourself for the fact that these fish are really good at getting free.

How to Land a Tarpon

Once you have managed to hook a Tarpon, you can expect them to go crazy with acrobatics while they try to get free. As the fish is about to jump, you should lower the tip of your rod and push it towards the fish. This will give your line some slack. 

catching tarpon

The drag on your reel is going to need some help during this time, and you should press the line against your rod with your fingers and create additional resistance to the pulling fish. This will help to ensure that they do not get away, but it does happen sometimes.

It is usually quite easy to tell when the Tarpon is getting tired, as they are likely to roll onto their side when this is the case. You can use a short lip gass and pass it through the fish’s lower lip.

You will need to hold the fish while someone removes the hook or clips the leader as closely to it as possible.

You should always be careful with any Tarpon that you have caught as although they are large, they are also really gentle. Lifting them up by the lip gaff can lead to serious injury. This is why it is not recommended to get them out of the water this way.

Instead, you should remove the hook without getting the Tarpon into the boat.

The fish will often need reviving after this ordeal. You should hold the fish upright in the water, moving it back and forth to enhance water circulation through its gills.

Almost all Tarpon are released back into the water, which is why some people choose to remove or flatten the hook bard to make the release less traumatic for the fish. This does make removal easier, but it also makes you more likely to lose more fish.

Where Are the Best Tarpon Fishing Spots in Florida?

Upper Keys – There is a large population of Tarpon around the Channel Bridges, Tom’s Harbor, Seven Mile Bridge, and Long Key. You can also look for them on the flats. Some other great locations include Jack Bank (near Marathon) and Buchanan Bank (near Islamorada Key).

Lower Keys – The best locations are Key West Harbor and Bahia Honda Bridge. Another great place to look for Tarpon is The Marquesas Keys as they are uninhabited, and not connected to Key West by road. They have Tarpon in high numbers, if you can get to them. The waters surrounding the Bahia Honda Bridge are full of fish too.

Boca Grande – Boca Grande is one of the most well known places to find Tarpon in the world, and this is for good reason. The flats that surround Homosassa Bay and the Crystal River are full of big Tarpon from May until June. However, due to the popularity of these locations, you can expect it to be very busy, so it is best to find your spot early.

The Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands – The Sandy Key and Rabbit Key Basins as well as the canals at Lake Ingraham and river mouths of Lostman’s and Harney rivers are full of Tarpon. The Turner River at Chokoloskee is another place that you can try.

Miami and the Atlantic Coast – The ports and inlets that are south of Biscayne Bay Are usually pretty good for Tarpon fishing. The best times to visit are between January and June. 

Tampa Bay – This is one of the best inshore fishing destinations in Florida, as Tampa Bay has clear waters that are full of Tarpon. You will be able to find Silver King around the bay’s mouth (Egmont Channel), and  around Fort De Soto Park and John’s Pass.

When is the Best Time to Go Tarpon Fishing in Florida?

More often than not, the best time to go Tarpon fishing in Florida is between the spring and summer months. The peak months for Tarpon fishing will depend on the area, but you can find some Tarpon in Florida waters all year round.

In the Upper and Middle Keys, there is likely to always be Tarpon, but the best time to go is between mid-March and mid-July. During the springtime, Tarpon are mostly on the Florida Bay side, but they start moving to the Atlantic side as time goes on.

When it comes to the Lower Keys, you are best off visiting from May to late July. You can also try your hand at winter Tarpon fishing at Key West Harbor, which is full of feeding Tarpon from January to March. 

You can find Tarpon all year long around the Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands, but the peak season lasts from March to July, with most fish being found during the receding tide. 

Florida’s West Coast from the Everglades to the Panhandle is best  to visit during May and June, which is usually when people from all over the world go there. Apalachicola Bay is another good spot to visit throughout the summer months.

You can also visit the Atlantic Coast of Florida, especially south of Biscayne Bay, from January through June for a vast selection of Tarpon.

Tarpon Fishing Regulations

Before you even think about going Tarpon fishing in Florida, you should make yourself aware of the fishing regulations that are in place. Tarpon are catch and release only in the state of Florida, and retaining the fish is only permitted if you have a Tarpon tag. Tarpon fishing gear is also limited to hook and line only.

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