Key West Tarpon 3

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Tarpon fishing in Key West is an habit. And that’s not only a daring assertion. The Keys, with its unbelievable nursery of marine life and various ecosystem, is the place to be for any “Silver King” lover. Right here, Tarpon aren’t only a prized sport fish. Key West Tarpon signify the realm higher than some other species ever might.

A fishing boat on the water in Key West, Florida, with a group of anglers observing a leaping Tarpon

The Sunshine State is likely one of the finest locations on earth to catch these acrobatic fish, and Key West is an ideal instance of that. The crystal-clear waters present an ideal habitat for Silver Kings all 12 months lengthy, and sight-fishing anglers use it to their benefit. Nonetheless, touchdown Tarpon – this important element of the Florida Inshore Slam – isn’t assured. 

On this information, we’ll focus on what strategies native anglers use to land these stunning fish. In addition to that, we’ll cowl the preferred spots in Key West and discuss the very best time to pursue Key West Tarpon. Are you prepared? Let’s get began.

How do I catch Tarpon in Key West?

A picture showing a male angler trying to catch a leaping Tarpon, while standing on a fishing boat in Key West, Florida

In the event you select Tarpon, there’s one rule it’s essential know –– it takes loads of endurance. Even native guides, educated professionals which have spent many years perfecting the craft, can’t assure that your effort shall be rewarded. 

As a respectful sport fish, Tarpon battle tooth and nail. A mean Silver King is available in at round 30–80 kilos, though you possibly can come throughout a lot larger fish. Tarpon are additionally identified for leaping out of the water even after being hooked. 

Do your finest to attempt to management the unbelievable drive on the finish of your line and stoop ahead. That is one thing identified regionally as “bowing to the King.” After which, Tarpon by no means appear to expire of vitality, making you’re employed to earn again all of the misplaced line. Some Key West anglers say there’s at all times just one winner – you or the fish. 

Learn on to listen to concerning the number of methods you possibly can go about Tarpon fishing in Key West. We’ll discuss concerning the native strategies, the very best bait, and all of the deal with it’s essential land a Silver King. It goes with out saying, nonetheless, that we suggest you guide a visit with an skilled information who can present you the ropes – even in the event you’ve focused Tarpon earlier than.


A picture showing a male angler wearing red shorts, flip-flops, and a light blue hoodie, holding a fishing rod and standing on a fishing boat with Key West in the background

Chumming for Tarpon in Key West is fairly area of interest, though it’s a long-standing custom. Anglers hop on their boats and keep inside 1–3 miles of the harbor. There, they toss the anchor, arrange their gear, and begin chumming with by-catch. This consists of smaller fish and bait that was beforehand scooped up into the web and purchased prematurely. 

Then, you solely want to attend till it’s time to carry the fish to the again of the boat. Since Tarpon are opportunistic feeders, they will get fairly intrigued and choose up the scent of the chum tossed into the water. As soon as the Silver Kings begin exhibiting up, your captain will present you the correct solution to drop the lifeless bait again and hook them up. Since Tarpon assume it’s chum and never hooked bait, they could take the bait. Then it’s as much as you to do the reeling in. 

This methodology works finest if there are just a few boats facet by facet tossing chum, so that you’ll normally have some firm.

Sight Casting

A fishing guide standing on the platform of a boat, fishing in the flats in Key West, Florida

Tarpon hand around in shallow waters fairly near shore. Naturally, in the event you pack your gear and head to the flats, it’s the right alternative to sight fish. It seems to be one thing like this: you notice your goal, forged your bait in order that the fish sees it, and permit the bait to drop down. Nonetheless, it’s not as straightforward because it sounds.

Tarpon are simply spooked, so your presentation must be as quiet as attainable – they gained’t tolerate any further noise. Bait motion and placement are vital. Native Tarpon anglers recommend inserting your presentation within the direct path of the fish, ensuring the bait descends in a pure means by peeling off the road. 

Pure bait works finest whereas sight casting. Pinfish, pilchards, mullet, shrimp, or crabs normally work properly. Be sure to additionally use a pointy circle hook, appropriate for a Tarpon’s bony mouth.


Two male anglers, one in a red t-shirt holding a fishing rod, and the other wearing a Yeti cap and dark sunglasses, holding a large Tarpon in the water from a boat by the shore in Key West, Florida

Trolling for Tarpon in Key West won’t be the most typical approach, however some anglers follow it regularly. This methodology consists of slowly trolling with stay baits, protecting a number of floor. When you gained’t essentially be very energetic all through the entire course of, you continue to must do the reeling partly. And we all know that’s fairly a problem!

Typical bait for trolling for Tarpon consists of pinfish, crab, and shrimp, though artificials are additionally on the menu, comparable to spoons and topwater plugs. Some anglers use a multi-bait setup with two or extra rods within the water. As for the trolling pace, native anglers stick with about 1.5–2.25 miles per hour.

Fly Fishing

A picture showing a male angler casting a fly rod in the Florida Keys' flats.

Fly fishing for Tarpon isn’t simply one other solution to catch the Silver King. In Key West, fly fishing is sort of a faith. Any angler within the Keys, information or not, would agree that Tarpon are essentially the most iconic inshore fish, and catching them on the fly is an actual craft.

Fly fishing is difficult and requires maybe much more endurance than different kinds of fishing. However it’s, undoubtedly, a rewarding exercise. You’ll want to make fast casts and choose the appropriate fly outfit and flies. Tarpon will take a look at your angling abilities, stamina, and instincts all on the identical time. 

Whereas fly fishing for Tarpon in Key West, you possibly can both stake out and look forward to the fish to return to you or actively pole a flat and search for the Silver King your self. Staking out is a conventional fly fishing methodology that’s been practiced in Key West for generations. No matter approach you’d wish to attempt, it’s at all times really useful to move out with a neighborhood information first.


A male angler standing on a boat in Key West, Florida, fishing for a Tarpon that's leaping out of the water in front of him

Basically, anglers are inclined to go spin fishing for Tarpon in Key West as a result of they’re extra snug with this method reasonably than fly fishing. Relying on the time of the 12 months, anglers modify the approach to suit the circumstances. 

As an illustration, throughout late February and early March, Tarpon hang around slightly deeper than traditional, within the channels and edges. These early season Kings react properly to stay bait and synthetic lures. Because the season progresses, the waters get calmer, so Tarpon transfer to shallower waters. This, in flip, makes them barely extra delicate to any presentation. Spin fishing works properly for each shallow and deep water.

What gear do I want for Tarpon fishing in Key West?

A picture showing two arms with orange gloves holding a large Tarpon by its mouth in the water in Key West, Florida

Since your common battle with Key West Tarpon lasts wherever from quarter-hour to properly over an hour, it’s essential have the appropriate gear ready. In the event you go for spinning gear, think about using 20–30 lb deal with with reels filled with 300 yards of braided line and 150 yards of monofilament backing. 

If fly fishing is your strategy of selection, native anglers use 11–12 wt rods with floating traces for normal Tarpon, and 9–10 wt for smaller ones. Flies are usually 3–5 inches lengthy, as much as 5/0 for big and a pair of–2/0 hooks for juvenile Tarpon.

When fishing in rivers and canals, locals suggest utilizing a 5–7 wt rod, a ten lb tippet with a 20 lb, 12″ shock. One of the crucial necessary issues is tailoring the colour of your fly to the colour of the underside. Basically, a streamer ought to have good distinction with the underside of the fishery. As an illustration, mild gray, blue, or inexperienced are nice for darkish grass, whereas orange, yellow, and crimson patterns work for sandy bottoms.

What’s the very best bait for Tarpon?

A picture showing a Tarpon jumping out of the water with the coast behind it in Key West, Florida

Flies apart, each stay bait and synthetic lures work properly whereas fishing for Key West Tarpon. Dwell, lifeless, or minimize bait produces good outcomes on the flats. You’ll be able to go along with pilchards, pinfish, and mullet. In the event you use shrimp as stay bait, thread and freeline it or hook it below its horn on the top. Alternatively, you need to use crabs as a substitute of shrimp, so long as you take away their claws prematurely and hook them bottom-up.

In the event you’re sticking to artificials, it’s really useful to make use of them on flats. A number of the handiest lures embody spinning lures and plugs, Gator spoons, Rapala Magnum for trolling, and colourful plastic worms when fishing near the underside. Spherical-headed crappie jigs, Rebels, and small Rapalas are good choices for canals and rivers.

The place do I am going Tarpon fishing in Key West?

A picture showing the flats of Key West, Florida, on a sunny day, with the coast visible in the background

It’s secure to say that Key West is virtually one large sizzling spot for Tarpon fishing. You’ll have all the probabilities to attempt your luck in the event you forged on the flats or head to one of many channels. Right here’s a fast listing of spots to think about to your Key West Tarpon journey:

  • Flats. Key West’s flats are the place to be in the event you’re chasing a Silver King in Could, June, and generally July. Some locals fish proper from a skiff or bay boat, concentrating on strings of Tarpon which might be making their means down the perimeters of the flats. 
  • Backcountry and channels. Early within the 12 months, Tarpon transfer to the channels and backcountry. Once they come varies from 12 months to 12 months and is determined by how chilly the winter is. Basically, they are often seen as early as late January. Identical to on the flats, anglers goal backcountry Tarpon on bay and flats fishing boats. 
  • Harbor and bridges. Key West Harbor is a superb place for a Tarpon chumming journey. These fish love harbors and bridges, though the fishing circumstances aren’t at all times ideally suited as a result of waves and ripping currents. You’ll be able to plan a visit anytime from spring by means of early summer season.

Tarpon Fishing Season in Key West

Two anglers, one male and one female, both smiling, while the male angler is holding a freshly-caught Tarpon in the water in Key West, Florida

Tarpon fishing in Key West is sweet all 12 months spherical, though the success of your journey is determined by the precise season. Silver Kings migrate to Key West each February after which head offshore to spawn in the summertime. Right here’s a fast breakdown of the Tarpon seasons:

Spring/early summer season. The fish quantity within the 1000’s throughout the spring months. That is when the massive migrational Tarpon begin exhibiting up, beginning in March. April by means of June is the general finest time for a Tarpon fishing journey, since massive colleges of fish journey by means of the decrease Keys. Throughout peak season, you possibly can even hook a 150 lb monster in simply three toes of water!

Late summer season/fall. Throughout on this interval, anglers take pleasure in attempting to find juvenile “child” Tarpon on the fly or mild deal with within the backcountry. These fish are smaller however are enjoyable to catch, hopping everywhere in the shallows. For the reason that waters in Key West keep heat longer, Tarpon have a tendency to stay round properly into October. 

Winter. The cooler months might make it tougher for anglers to seek out good numbers of Tarpon, however the fishing doesn’t cease. In reality, you possibly can take pleasure in nighttime child Tarpon journeys throughout this time of 12 months. You even have the possibility to seek out bigger Tarpon in late winter earlier than the migration season begins.

Key West Tarpon Fishing FAQs

Do I want a license to fish for Tarpon in Key West?
  • It’s possible you’ll must buy a sound Florida fishing license earlier than your journey. Nonetheless, the vast majority of constitution operators and guides cowl licenses for everybody on board, together with Tarpon anglers.
Can I maintain Tarpon?
  • Tarpon are strictly catch-and-release as a protected species in Florida. You’ll be able to retain the fish in the event you’re pursuing an IGFA file and have a particular Tarpon tag, though this isn’t inspired. All Tarpon over 40 inches should be saved within the water, whereas smaller fish are allowed on board quickly.
Are Tarpon good to eat?
  • Tarpon are edible, however don’t style excellent. Their meat comprises a number of small bones, which makes it arduous to eat. Plus, Tarpon are a strictly catch-and-release species.

Tarpon Fishing in Key West – The Silver King of the Conch Republic

Two anglers on a fishing boat in Key West, Florida, one of them holding a fishing rod, while the other iss smiling and holding a large Tarpon in the water

There are such a lot of the reason why Tarpon fishing in Key West is so well-liked. Along with productive grounds, skilled guides, and delightful climate, the southernmost metropolis within the continental USA can be one of the crucial stunning locations within the nation. And who would say no to a couple days on this angling paradise, particularly when a few Silver Kings are within the playing cards?

Each Floridian and visiting angler has to go Key West Tarpon fishing a minimum of as soon as. Have you ever ever tried it? Share your Tarpon tales within the feedback beneath!

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