Every year there is tarpon migration to the Florida Keys and its apex is in Key West. Every Spring thousands of these huge fish congregate in the harbor and channels surrounding Key West.
Tarpon a “pinnacle species”
Tarpon are one the “must-catch” big game fish. Catching a tarpon is an achievement, and catching one on a fly is an even bigger achievement.
These fish are big
Tarpon get big, really big sometimes over 150# and they can be found in waist deep water, sometimes even knee deep.
Tarpon Fishing Gear
Primarily we fish for tarpon with heavy spinning gear by Shimano but sometimes conventional gear is used as well.
Circle hooks are used mostly and the fish is always released. It is actually illegal to kill a tarpon unless you purchase a tag for it beforehand from the state.
Tarpon Fishing Bait
Tarpon can be kind of finicky eaters, and sometimes they will not eat at all. Other times they will inhale anything that is edible out there. Sometimes tarpon will only eat a certain bait and ignore all others. We fish both live and dead baits, and switch based what is or isn’t working.
It’s very common to be fishing for tarpon and have them breaking the surface all around you and not having a strike, and then it’s like switch reels start screaming and the action begins.
Tarpon fishing times
Tarpon can be caught at all times, but they seem to like the lower light conditions. Targeting them in evening or at dawn can be particularly productive. They also eat at night, which can a fun time to fish without the heat of the sun.
Chumming for Tarpon
It is popular to chum for tarpon in the Key West harbor. This is not done with the commercial chum that is used for yellow tail fishing. Captains acquire bags of what is known as “shrimp trash” which is by-catch from shrimp boats. This by-catch consists of small dead fish and crabs. Tarpon like to eat it.
You essentially throw handfuls of this trash a little at a time and tarpon in the area eventually will start eating it as it drifts back. Then you add a hook and BOOM you have one on.
Times of year for Tarpon
We have tarpon in Key West all year but the best time is spring and early summer.