With their stamina, beauty and tremendous aerobic ability, tarpon are considered one of the world’s top game fishes.
Only two species of tarpon comprise the family Megalopidae — the familiar Atlantic tarpon and the Pacific tarpon (a.k.a. oxeye herring). The Pacific version is nearly identical to the Atlantic, but it grows to less than 10 pounds. The Atlantic “silver king” can easily exceed 200 pounds.
Atlantic tarpon are being caught with increasing frequency in the Pacific, along the coasts of Panama and Costa Rica, having transited through the Panama Canal. However, it is suspected (but not yet proven) that the fish are breeding in estuaries along this area of Central American coastline.
The IGFA all-tackle world record, weighing 286 pounds, 9 ounces, came from Guinea-Bissau on the western coast of Africa in 2003.
With their stamina, beauty and tremendous aerobic ability, tarpon are considered one of the world’s top game fishes. In fact, in the definitive list of the World’s Top 100 Game Fish, tarpon scored second, barely behind blue marlin.
Tarpon are tropical/subtropical coastal dwellers, frequenting nearshore reefs, beaches, bays and estuaries. Their can gulp air at the surface, taking it into their swim bladder (no other marine species can do this). Tarpon can then “breathe” that air, assimilating it from the swim bladder by rows of lung-like tissue. This allows tarpon to thrive in low-oxygen waters where other predators cannot.
Tarpon spawn offshore; one female can release 4 to 20 million eggs.
Experienced anglers have a variety of tips and tricks for landing this acrobatic species, but perhaps one of the most important parts to catching more tarpon is understanding their swimming patterns. Everything from tides to new and full moons can play a role, and tracking when the bite is on over time is essential to having more productive outings.
Seasonality and the infamous tarpon migration must also be considered, as the time of year will certainly influence whether tarpon are biting. Each year around April, tarpon migrate south along both sides of Florida. Then sometime around June, they turn around and head back North, but during this time some of the best tarpon fishing destinations open up to anxious anglers. Popular locations include Boca Grande, the Florida Keys, Miami, and the Tampa Bay area.
And whether you’re fishing near bridges, mangroves, beaches, or secluded residential canals, one thing remains constant for tarpon - they love current. Tarpon are naturally ambush predators, and they’re known for picking off bait fish as they swim by. If you’re not using natural baits, lures and flies work great for tarpon as well, but make sure to adjust the size of the artificials you’re using based on the size of the fish you want to catch.
Tarpon fishing in Florida offers some of the hottest fishing you can find during certain times of the year, but there are plenty of other locations that present the opportunity to catch this sought-after game fish. Along the East Coast, you can find tarpon as far North as Georgia and South Carolina. In the Gulf, you can catch them from Alabama through Texas.
Tarpon can also be caught off the coasts of Mexico and Central America pretty much year-round. South America is also known for good tarpon fishing, especially along the coasts of Colombia, Venezuela and Trinidad. And don’t forget about Puerto Rico being a very hot destination for tarpon anglers.