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Florida Fishing - Species

TARPON

Regulations

No minimum size limit or closed season; 2 per person per day limit; Requires a $50 tarpon tag to possess or kill

General Information

Tarpon are very primitive fish. The swim bladder of these fish connects to the fish's throat and they can use it as a primitive lung. This allows the smaller and younger fish to gulp air when the water is low in dissolved oxygen. This is a common occurrence in the shallow backwater bays during the summer, the place where small tarpon spend most of their time. One of the ways to scout for the presence of the "silver king" is to look and listen for tarpon to "roll" on the surface. That's when they gulp air and pass it into the swim bladder.

Tarpon begin their spawn in mid May and reach peak activity in June and July. Large, females may carry as many as 20 million eggs. The fish swim offshore to spawn but within 30 to 45 days, the young fish that have survived are an inch long and are moving into the estuaries where they will live for the next few years. The small fish move far up the tidal creeks looking for small protected areas where they can live and escape their predators. Some of these fish become land-locked in small ponds and ditches as summer rains subside and the mangrove forest dries out. This explains why many people see and catch tarpon in areas where it looks like the fish could never have reached.

Tarpon take from 10 to 13 years to mature. At this time the males weigh about 40 pounds and the females are close to 60 pounds. Once sexually mature a tarpon can reproduce for up to 45 years.

Fortunately for anglers, tarpon are not in danger of being over fished. The fish has a very low food value and virtually no one keeps one for food. They are exclusively a sport fish. That fact keeps the number of fish that are caught and kept at a low level. When you combine this with the $50 special tag that anglers need in order to take a specimen, the number of "kills" attributed to anglers goes down even further. The special permit, instituted in 1989, lowered the number of tarpon kept by sport anglers from 300 to about 80 in 1993.

Distribution

The best tarpon fishing is along the coast in the southern half of the state however tarpon are caught anywhere along the coast during the summer months when the water is warm.

Tackle and Techniques

Big fish require big tackle and those going after the 150 pounders and up need to use a seven to eight foot stout rod and a reel capable of holding 200 yards of 15-30 pound test line. A good bass flipping stick will work in lieu of buying a special tarpon rod.. Fly rodders need 11 or 12 weight line and corresponding rod and reel. Seven to nine weight combinations work for tarpon up to 30 pounds. Use 30 pound test backing and have at least 200 yards on the spool in addition to the fly line.

Whether using conventional tackle or a fly rod, a 20 to 40 pound leader, depending on the size line you're using, is necessary. Attach a one foot piece of 100 pound test line to the end of the leader and tie the hook to that. The heavy line is necessary helps prevent the fish from fraying or chewing through the line. Many anglers tie a Bimini Twist on the end of their spinning or plug rods and then tie the leader to that. This knot doubles the end of the line and makes a stronger connection with the leader. Hooks ranging from 3/0 to 7/0 are used with size varying according to the size of bait being used and angler preference.

Bait

Live mullet or crabs are the top choice for live baiters. Tarpon will also take other live baits such as large shrimp, ladyfish, catfish, and pinfish. Contrary to what some anglers say, tarpon will bite a piece of cut bait. When tarpon are feeding on a school of bait fish, they stun some fish as they attack the school. A piece of cut bait apparently resembles a stunned fish close enough for a tarpon to go after it.

Spinning and casting anglers can use lures that resemble mullet and other baitfish. Some of the more popular lures used by tarpon anglers are the Zara Spook, Creek Chub Darter, Chartreuse Bomber Long A, 52m MirrOlure, Bagley Finger Mullet, Ratlin' Flash, and Ratl' Trap. Experienced anglers usually replace the hooks that come on the lures with 3X strength hooks because of the tremendous biting force of the fish.

Streamers are considered one of the best tarpon flies. Orange and red are popular colors. The cockroach is another widely used fly.

Secrets to Success

* Always use a sharp hook. Tarpon have very hard, bony mouths, Sharpen hooks before you use them, even ones fresh out of the package.

* Let big tarpon have control the first few minutes. This is when they do the most jumping and all you can really do is hold on anyway.

* Dip your rod when the fish jumps. This gives the line some slack and you are less likely to have the fish spit out the lure or break the line.

* Tarpon spook very easily when there is noise in the water. Try to turn the motor off when close to your site and use a trolling motor or push pole to get in casting distance.

* When you feel a fish on the line, let it run with the bait for a few seconds then set the hook hard

* You will jump more fish than you will catch so enjoy whatever thrills each fish provides

* When using artificial lures or flies, make your retrieve slow and straight. Don't retrieve the lure so that it is coming at the fish as this usually scares them off. Make a presentation that brings the lure across or at a quartering diagonal away from the direction in which the fish is swimming.

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