If you are in the Keys during the month of May and have an interest in fishing our gorgeous inshore waters, it won’t be long before you realize that everyone is going bonkers about tarpon; The Silver King, Megalops Atlanticus. All of this attention is generated by the fact that the time and conditions are perfect for large, migratory tarpon to move into our local waters to feed and rest before heading to points north later in the summer. Commonly, these fish weigh 80 to 120 pounds, and fish over 150 pounds are not unusual. Aside from sharks, these are some of the biggest fish an angler can hook in shallow water. Tarpon are famous for their numerous, wild jumps, drag-screaming runs, and seemingly indefatigable attitude when battling with an angler. As kayak fisher-folk, we CAN target these fish, but I don’t do it a lot. A fish of this size and strength can easily pull a kayak miles from where it is initially hooked, and the fight can last for hours. But the biggest problem with doing it from a yak, is that it isn’t good for the fish. Fighting them to the bitter end means the fish likely won’t survive the experience. All of this brings me to the OTHER type of tarpon fishing - fishing for smaller, more manageable juveniles.
Juvenile tarpon are made-to-order for kayak fishing. The size of these fish generally range from 10 to 40 pounds. Much more willing to eat than the big ones, small tarpon have all the propensity for jumping that the large fish do, and they inhabit inshore areas that kayakers frequent. Many times, you’ll find them in protected coves, creeks, or on lee shores without another boat in sight. Tarpon grow very slowly, and tend to be loyal to an area as long as it doesn’t get too much fishing pressure. So, once you find a juvy tarpon spot, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF. You can revisit these spots every few weeks and have fun with the same fish for years, without having to start looking from scratch on every trip.
Rigging for them is fairly straightforward. All tarpon, large or small, have VERY rough mouths and will wear through leader material quickly, so I use about 4 feet of 30 lb. or 40 lb. fluorocarbon to make sure we land the fish. A medium spinning rig in the 15 to 20-pound class is about right for them. Fly-rodders will find a 9wt will get the job done nicely.
For live bait, an unweighted, fat shrimp is tarpon candy, but you can catch them on lures almost as easily most days. My favorite lure is a 4” floating soft bait by Z-man called a “jerk shad”. Give this a twitching-style retrieve near a school of small tarpon and you’ll be hooked up in no time! My favorite flies are gurglers in shallow water (< 3 feet) and bait fish patterns to work a little deeper.
If you’d like to check old “bucket mouth” off your bucket list, ring, text or email and I’ll put you on the fish!
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