In this short guide, I’ll teach you the basics of Tarpon fishing in Florida. First, I’ll show you where to look for them, and at what time of year. Next, we’ll look at which bait to use, as well as how to hook and land them properly.
The Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) is among the most popular game fish in Florida. It’s well known for its acrobatics on the end of a line and capable of jumping up to ten feet out of the water while rattling its gills like an angry diamondback snake. They grow to massive size, with the current IGFA world record at 286 lbs 9 oz. Tarpon are also called Silver King, Silver Sides or Sabalo (Spanish). While they are edible, people rarely eat Tarpon because their flesh is filled with small, hard to clean bones. Tarpon’s preferred water temperature is in the 74-88 degrees Fahrenheit range.
When is Tarpon Season in Florida
Tarpon are catch and release only in the state of Florida. Retaining the fish is only permitted if you are pursuing an IGFA world record and have purchased a Tarpon tag, which costs around $50 and is limited to one per year per person. Also, Tarpon fishing gear is limited to hook and line only. However, as long as you play by the rules, you’re in for a world of fun. Let’s take a look at when and where you can hook these monsters.
Seasonality and Locations
Upper and Middle Keys
There is a large population of Tarpon around the Channel Bridges, Tom’s Harbor, Seven Mile Bridge and Long Key. Also, look for them on the flats. Jack Bank (near Marathon) and Buchanan Bank (near Islamorada Key) are good places, as well. While present near the Keys year-round, peak season runs from mid-March and until mid-July. During springtime, Tarpon are mostly on the Florida Bay side, but as the year progresses, they start moving to the Atlantic side.
The best locations are Key West Harbor, Bahia Honda Bridge and Marquesas Keys. May through late July are the best months here, with the exception of Key West Harbor which is full of feeding Tarpon January through March. The Marquesas Keys, since they’re uninhabited and not connected to Key West by road, have Tarpon in great numbers if you can get to them. The Bahia Honda Bridge is a disused bridge that used to connect Bahia Honda Key with Spanish Harbor. The waters surrounding it are full of Tarpon.
Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands
The Sandy Key and Rabbit Key Basins along with the canals at Lake Ingraham and river mouths of Lostman’s and Harney rivers. The Turner River at Chokoloskee is also a good location famous for big Tarpon. Fish are caught all year, with peak season from March to July, during the receding tide.
Florida’s West Coast from the Everglades to the Panhandle
Boca Grande is the most famous Tarpon fishing location in the world. The best months for fishing are May and June, when people from all over the world come to catch Tarpon. The flats surrounding Homosassa Bay and the Crystal River are also full of big Tarpon May through June. Apalachicola Bay is a good spot, from June and throughout the entire summer.
Atlantic Coast, South of Biscayne Bay
Although found throughout Florida’s Atlantic coast, ports and inlets south of Biscayne Bay offer the best Tarpon fishing. In particular, Government Cut (between Miami Beach and Fisher Island) and Port Everglades, from January to June.