Florida Keys Tarpon are perhaps the most highly sought after fish in the United States. To catch Tarpon consistently you need to have a thorough understanding of their behavior patterns.
You can and will encounter Tarpon in all different kinds of habitats. I have seen Tarpon in excess of one hundred pounds basking in the sun in water about one foot deep within ten yards of the shore. Later in the day you may encounter the same fish in much deeper water near a bridge.
The seven mile bridge that connects Marathon Key to the lower keys is perhaps the most fished area of water in the country for large Tarpon.
Let’s start first with equipment. When you fish for Tarpon you are seeking a fish that can be anywhere from twenty to two hundred pounds. The problem you have is that you cannot use tackle that is too heavy. Tarpon are a very wary fish that will instantly ignore a presentation that does not seem natural.
An example of their wariness took place several years ago on my first visit to the Florida Keys. We just got in from a successful day of fishing I noticed a large Tarpon of about forty pounds suspending close to shore. I threw a shrimp into the water and it inhaled it immediately. My son took a rod we were using to fish for shark and putting a smaller hook on it tried to offer the Tarpon a shrimp on the hook.
No matter how close he put the offering the fish would have nothing to do with it. I then took a Snapper rod with fifteen pound monofilament line, added a thirty pound clear fluorocarbon leader and after baiting the hook was instantly hooked up with the large Tarpon. Lesson learned is keeping the tackle as light as possible.
I recommend a medium to heavy action rod of high quality. You need enough backbone to set the hook but more importantly you need a rod that will put pressure on the fish and tire him out.
The reel is perhaps the most important piece of equipment. The initial run a Tarpon will make is to say the least very impressive. You need a reel that will hold at least two hundred yards of line, preferably more.
If you are lucky enough to latch onto a very large Tarpon you will often have to chase him with your boat to prevent him from spooling your reel. A well oiled top of the line drag is a must on your reel. Anything less will not be sufficient to land a large Tarpon.
If you are live bait fishing you also need to select the proper hook. In the Florida Keys there are restrictions on hook design in certain areas. If fishing on the gulf side in a boat you must use circle hooks.
When fishing on the Atlantic side you can use the standard “J” style hooks which are much more efficient at hooking fish of any species. Whatever the case do not cut corners, but high quality hooks and keep them sharp as you can.