From where I am standing, and as far as I can see, the undisputed king of May is none other than the Silver King himself, the tarpon. As far as big game fishing is concerned, no other fish is as accessible to as many anglers as the tarpon. Name a place anywhere in the world that you can access as many fish over the century mark in weight as the tarpon. Name an inshore fish that puts on as impressive of an aerial display as the tarpon. Name a fish that can be pursued as many ways with as wide variety of tackle in as many different environments as the tarpon.
You would be hard pressed to find a dock anywhere in the Keys that does not have access to tarpon within a few miles. No matter what size vessel that you skipper there are accessible tarpon spots that you can work. From kayak to sport fisherman, the tarpon are within reach.
There are tarpon that migrate up the coast and are prime targets for sight fishing either with spin or fly tackle and either artificial or natural live or dead bait. There are tarpon that hold up in basins and are great targets for sight fishers also. Tarpon patrol the flats in water as shallow as a few feet. Tarpon also haunt the deeper harbors feeding heavily on the tides. They patrol most bridges that span the Keys where they ambush baitfish caught up in the rushing water.
Baby tarpon are their own fishery. What other fish has as great of a following as those fishing for juvenile fish. Fish between ten and thirty pounds are perfect for sight fishing around the mangroves with fly or light spinning gear.
I can assure you that this is only a partial list of where and with what gear and vessels that tarpon are targeted. For the fishing ADD afflicted angler such as myself, you can fish for and target tarpon so many different ways that you can target them every day of the month and not run low on methods, areas and tackle options.
I do have personal favorites when it comes to targeting tarpon. For taking tarpon on the fly, nothing comes close to presenting to migrating fish on the ocean side flats. Here you can cast to school after school of fish. These schools can be comprised of just a few fish to occasionally several hundred fish. No I don’t get takers from every school, however I do get more opportunities than with other types of big game fishing. As for getting hookups, fishing the bridges that connect and channels that separate the Keys are tops in any book. The channels that are spanned by bridges tend to have more tarpon than channels without bridges. The same structure that concentrate the fish also makes landing said fish much more difficult. For that reason alone I like to fish channels without bridges. Even though I will tend to hook fewer fish the odds of getting a hooked fish to the boat are greatly increased. Tarpon can be caught in the channels all hours of the day and night, however the most active times are the hour before and after sunrise and sunset.
Keeping a healthy population of tarpon has its challenges. One main cause of tarpon mortality is predation by the large sharks that have learned to equate fishing with an easy meal. This is one more reason that I prefer the channels that are less fished to the channels that are heavily fished around the more popular bridges. It is a rare day around a bridge like Bahia Honda, that a few fish are not eaten by large bull sharks and hammerheads.
Other ways to avoid tarpon mortality is to always use circle hooks. These hooks are designed to hook the jaw of a fish and to avoid the throat and gills. Not going too light on your tackle will allow you to get a fish to the boat before it is completely exhausted. Another great advantage to keeping your tackle a bit heavier is that your fish will spend more time in the air. Keeping a fish in the air gives a better show for you, a faster trip to the boat and a healthier release for your fish.
Last but not least, when releasing your fish and getting a few quick shots for your Facebook page it is important to not remove larger fish from the water. I know that in the past I have been guilty of bringing fish aboard for a photo op. However the information that we have now proves that internal organs are damaged by lifting a big fish up and out of the water. Quickly removing a hook that is easy to access or cutting the line on one that happens to be set deep and slowly trolling your fish holding it by the jaw until it can swim free of your gentle grip will give him a better chance of not sinking to the bottom to be bait for hungry sharks.
Tarpon are easily trained to congregate around sources of free meals. Docks around charter boats that clean their fish regularly through the Keys have populations of tame fish. Famed places like Robbie’s on Matacumbe or the docks in and around Schooner Wharf as well as many other lesser known spots in the Keys hold populations of tame tarpon. These tarpon have become accustomed to human activity and are a cherished resource. They are a gateway to introducing thousands of people a year to what the Keys have to offer by way of magnificent game fish. No sportsman would ever dream of presenting a bait to a fish in these situations.
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