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October 26, 2001

Releasing Tarpon

While keeping a scale for souvenir purposes is a good alternative to killing a tarpon, we don't recommend handling a large fish any more than necessary.

Q: I recently read an article on tarpon fishing (in another saltwater fishing publication) in which the author recommended taking a photograph and removing a scale from the fish as a memento of the catch rather than paying $50 for a tarpon tag. Wouldn't this leave an open wound susceptible to infection on the released fish? - Twig Tolle, Orlando, Florida

A: Maybe. But compared to being dead, which is what the $50 tarpon-kill tag is for, it's a great improvement. Though the scales of large tarpon are very big and impressive (3 inches or more across), I don't recommend pulling them out as a souvenir - not just to protect the health and beauty of the fish, but because it means unnecessary handling and the risk of a big fish jumping next to a small boat. Having suffered a broken nose when a 140-plus-pound tarpon did exactly that, I can testify to the safety hazard.
There's absolutely no need to kill a tarpon. A good guide can estimate the weight and length of the fish if you want a replica mount. Take a photo of it, but never haul it into the boat since that causes more damage than just taking a scale from the fish in the water. If the tarpon's exhausted, hold its mouth into the current or idle the boat with the fish alongside until it develops a good kick.
If you're fun-fishing and don't require an official release (someone touching the leader), try tarpon fishing with a barbless hook - you can get many nice jumps from the fish, then give the line slack when you're ready to release it.