“Don’t forget,” said the guide. “Bow to the king!”
Florida tarpon are definitely royalty in the fishing community — often called the Silver King — but the guide’s reminder was to lower the pole – bow — whenever a tarpon jumped, to avoid tearing the hook from their tender mouths.
There’s nothing quite like a tarpon. They come big – the state record is 243 lbs., and they average 75. Tarpon are powerful, acrobatic fighters with tremendous stamina. Explosive describes them best. There’s nothing quite like a tarpon taking to the air – which they do a lot. Tarpon-addicted fishermen gush about the thrill of a twisting, airborne tarpon on the line.
Tarpon are a challenge many fisherman rank at the very top — a lifetime achievement. Even experienced anglers land only about one of eight hook-ups.
The silver kings feed primarily on fish, shrimp and crabs, although some say they’ll eat almost anything, dead or alive. That may account for so many being hooked by anglers pursuing other species – much to their surprise!
Found up and down the Florida coast during warm months (including the Panhandle), during winter they concentrate in the south.
Big tarpon can be tempted with live bait in Florida’s large passes, channels, inlets, and river mouths. Particularly popular is sight fishing with fly or casting tackle on the shallow flats found in the Keys and along the lower Gulf Coast from Homosassa south.
Anglers target tarpon in many ways — flies, streamers, floating and diving lures, jigs, live bait and dead bait. Tackle depends on the bait used, and on the location and the size of fish being sought. A long, heavy monofilament leader – say 80# — is a must to protect the line from being sliced by a gill plate or tail.
Drift-fishermen favor live baits like small crabs and fish such as mullet and pinfish. But tarpon also take dead baits — mullet heads or half mullets bottom fished are a popular choice.
Heavy gear is called for when trolling or surfcasting. Lipped plugs work for trolling, which surfcasters go for surface, swimming and jerk plugs. Streamers are the choice for fly fisherman, particularly bucktails and scissor-action feather streamers.
Tarpon have an unusual habit that often alerts anglers to their presence. Referred to as “rolling”, they will rise to surface and take great gulps of air, boosting their oxygen supply and providing a short burst of energy.
If tarpon have a shortcoming, it’s that they make mighty poor eating. They are pretty much a catch and release proposition. They aren’t even legally harvestable in Florida. If you do want to keep one – strictly for the purpose of qualifying for an IGFA record – then you have to obtain a tarpon tag in advance (one tag per angler per year). There is also a one fish per vessel limit.
You can measure and photograph your tarpon, but a fish longer than 40 inches must be kept in the water during the process.
If you are new to tarpon fishing, you’re in for a special experience. Give it a try, and soon you’ll be joining the chorus singing, “Hail to the Silver King!”
(Originally published at Coastal Marine Outfitters: https://www.coastalmarineoutfitters.com/blogs/fishing-2/113382854-hail-to-the-silver-king )