Tarpon Fishing Basics

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Tarpon can be found in the passes, on the beaches, around bridges, near docks, on the flats and in the tidal creeks, inlets and backwaters.

How to Catch Tarpon

Popular baits for tarpon are live natural baits such as pinfish, mullet, squirrel fish, menhaden, spot and blue crabs.  Lures will also work.  Spoons, swimbaits, plugs, jigs and flies are all very productive.  Most anglers prefer sight fishing for tarpon.  Once you see a rolling fish, make sure to get ahead of the fish and then present your bait to the fish.  You may see tarpon rolling along the beaches, on the flats, along lighted docks at night and around the bridges.  When you find these rolling tarpon, there will usually be more fish in the area.  During the tarpon migration, it is common to see tarpon in schools of 20 or more fish.  Fishing the deep water of the passes and bridges is another very popular method for catching tarpon.

Recommended Tackle

Tarpon can be very good or somewhat small.  The type of tackle will depend how you are fishing for them.  Some anglers love fishing in the bays and canals for many of those baby tarpon because they are fairly easy to catch and they fight great on light tackle.  Medium action rods and reels with 14 to 20 pound test line can work great for these situations.  However, once you start targeting bigger tarpon, you’re going to want some heavy tackle.  Use heavy action rods and reels.  Anglers use baitcasters and spinning gear.  Anglers use heavy line to match these heavy rods and reels.  30 to 50 pound test line will work for most situations and an 80 to 100 pound fluorocarbon leader is recommended too.

Eating Tarpon

Tarpon are not good for eating.  They are considered a sport fish.

Baby Tarpon

Baby tarpon are much smaller than the adult fish.  Adult tarpon may weigh as much as 200 pounds, while the baby tarpon that are found in the tidal creeks, inlets and backwaters will often weigh between 10 and 30 pounds.  The smaller the tidal creek will usually result in smaller tarpon.  Some of the very shallow creeks are home to large numbers of tarpon, but few will be above 5 pounds.  The tidal creeks, inlets and backwaters that hold some deeper water are capable of producing some bigger fish up to 30 pounds.  You can also find these juvenile tarpon in shallow bays, along mangrove shorelines and in the canals near the docks.

Catching these juvenile tarpon can still be quite a challenge.  Like the adult fish, you can expect a better bite at night during stronger tidal changes.  Lighted docks will also attract plenty of tarpon.  These baby tarpon will spook easily, so make sure you approach the best fishing spots quietly.  Some of the better baits to use are live finger mullet, pinfish, crabs and jumbo shrimp.  Artificial lures will also work.  Soft plastics, small swimbaits and flies are some of the more popular lures that anglers use to target juvenile tarpon.  These smaller tarpon may not be as strong as the big adult tarpon, but they can be a blast on spinning tackle and fly fishing rods.  A 15 to 20 pound tarpon is still a good-sized fish to catch inshore and the baby tarpon will usually jump several times during the fight.

Migrating Tarpon

Every year, huge schools of migratory tarpon will move into Florida and up both of the coasts.  Tarpon move north into the Gulf Coast waters and up along the southern part of the Atlantic Coast.  Some areas will receive much larger schools of fish, which obviously results in better fishing.  The migration occurs in the early spring and runs through summer.  The southern part of Florida will start seeing these fish in February, while Virginia (considered the northern most point of the migration) will see fish in July and August.

Some of the better places to fish during the tarpon migration are Boca Grande Pass, Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Pine Island, the Florida Keys and Tampa Bay.

Resident Tarpon

Resident tarpon are the tarpon that stay in a specific area throughout the year.  Most of the resident tarpon are actually juvenile (or baby) tarpon that are usually caught in the 10 to 30 pound range.  Bigger tarpon will stay in certain areas and these resident fish give anglers the best chance to target a big tarpon until the migratory tarpon begin showing up.

Inshore Fishing for Tarpon

Fishing for tarpon inshore is very popular.  There are so many places that tarpon can be found inshore from the bays, canals, bridges, docks and more.  We have more detailed information on the many of the different places to catch tarpon inshore.

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Pier Fishing for Tarpon

Fishing off the piers for tarpon is not very common.  Anglers may have targeted tarpon from the piers more in the past, but since Florida changed their fishing regulations for tarpon, it is much lesson common nowadays.  In Florida, you can’t remove the tarpon from the water.  If you want a picture, you need to lean down to the fish while it rests in the water at the side of the boat or you can get in the water with the fish to snap a photo.  This new regulation changes how pier fishermen think once tarpon come into the area.  In other states that allow for anglers to take the tarpon out of the water, fishermen do catch some tarpon from the piers.  Most of the time, tarpon are caught with live bait or cut bait fished near the bottom.

How the Tides Affect Tarpon Fishing

The feeding habits of most inshore fish are affected greatly by the tides and tarpon are no exception.  The strongest tides tend to offer anglers some of the best tarpon fishing.  When the moon is full or new, the gravitational pull is at its strongest as the moon and sun combine.  During the full moon and new moon, high tides will be very high and the low tides will be very low.  These are the peak times to fish for tarpon.  Combine these tidal changes with lowlight conditions of the early morning, late evening and at night and you have an even better chance to catch some tarpon.

An incoming tide or outgoing tide will both be productive when tarpon fishing.  The key is moving water.  A slack tide is the worst.  An incoming tide can be a great time to fish the beaches, flats and backwater areas.  Big tarpon will move into these shallow water areas to put the feed on.  The outgoing tide can still be good for fish in the backwaters and on the flats just following the high tide.  As water levels continue to drop, the better spots to fish will be the bridges and passes.  Fishing is good on both the incoming and outgoing tides near the bridges and passes, but the outgoing tide tends to pull lots of bait through these areas and tarpon will be waiting to ambush these baits.  If you get a chance to get out and do some tarpon fishing, just make sure to fish during the tidal changes and don’t forget that the strongest tides during the full moon and new moon will offer some of the best fishing.

How the Time of Day Affects Tarpon Fishing

The time of day can definitely affect the bite on any given day when tarpon fishing.  Usually, low light conditions will be best, especially in clear water.  Morning, evening and night time are the peak times to target tarpon, however, when the bite is going good, you can catch plenty of fish during the middle of the day too.

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How the Time of Year Affects Tarpon Fishing

Tarpon migrate annually up both coasts of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico and up along the southern part of the Atlantic coast.  Starting in the southern part of Florida, you will start to see some of these migratory fish during the end of winter and in the early spring.  These fish will work their way up the coasts as the water temperatures warm.  The central and northern parts of the state see tarpon move into their areas from late spring through summer.

The best fishing for tarpon is definitely when the migratory fish move through your specific area.  The rest of the year still offers some tarpon fishing, but it just isn’t the same.  Some destinations have decent numbers of resident tarpon and fish can be caught consistently by experienced anglers, but the average angler will usually have a tough time catching these fish.  Juvenile tarpon are easier to find as they usually are found in the tidal creeks near docks and mangrove-lined shorelines.  The juvenile tarpon can be a blast to catch on light tackle.  These fish will be less than 30 pounds and in some of the shallowest creeks, you may not find many fish bigger than 10 pounds.



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