If you’re the sort of person who likes to set ambitious goals you might be looking for the mighty Atlantic Tarpon (megalops atlanticus…. or “Atlantic Big Eyes”). These beautiful fish are not considered good to eat but they are wonderful fighting fish who can give an angler the fight and time of their life!
Tarpon, known fondly as the Silver King among flats anglers, is common throughout the Gulf of Mexico and especially in the coastal waters around Florida, the Florida Keys, and throughout the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. Flats fishermen (and women) consider Florida to have the best Tarpon fishing in the world – and not surprisingly 29 of the world records for Tarpon were achieved in Florida.
Tarpon are BIG – ranging from 5 to 8 feet long, or sometimes more, when relatively mature and weighing as much as 300 pounds! In the waters off Key West, you’ll routinely find Tarpon catches between 40 to 150 lbs. depending on the gear, bait and tackle you’re using. It would not be unrealistic to expect a catch a tarpon weighing 100 lbs. or more.
Tarpon cruise around, looking for food, usually near the surface. This is one of the reasons they are considered easy ‘sight fishing’. When you get one to strike, you’re really in for a fight and the fish you’ve got on the hook is tough, long-winded — and probably older that you are; tarpon are known to live as long as 80 years.
For many fish, once you get the hook set in their mouth, that’s 90% of the game. With a tarpon, you’ve only just begun to fight.
As a tarpon strikes your fly or bait, you’ve got to be sure to make a couple of quick short jabs to set the hook firmly in their jaw because their jaw is solid bone. While working the fish back toward the boat you also need to be cautious about pulling too hard or too fast because it’s not uncommon to break leaders or rods. Remember, these fish are big!
Also, when the fish launch themselves into the air, be sure to lower you rod tip very quickly. Its called "Bowing to the King", ugly things usually happen if you don't. Like "Game over".They’re trying to shake that hook out of their mouth… and that’s exactly what happens if the angler doesn’t give the tarpon enough line when they jump. Tarpon are smarter than you might expect a fish to be and many are lost this way.
Be sure and bring your camera; the most majestic thing about tarpon is those magnificent leaps up into the air. Obviously you’ll be ‘busy’ if there’s another angler along, or the guide has a hands free moment you’ll want to capture those leaps. For many anglers, catching a tarpon is a life-changing. You’ll enjoy it.