Nothing compares to the heart pounding adrenaline rush of watching a monster tarpon break the surface as your rod is bent in a rainbow arch. Once the water starts to warm up along the west coast of Florida, tarpon anglers start their engines and ply the waters looking for that telltale dorsal fin that announces the presence of exciting action.
Beyond the fact that they are fun to catch, there isn't much known about the tarpon. Tarpon is not table fare and that has meant little or no research in the past. While there are some new programs in place attempting to monitor the tarpon, many aspects of their lifecycle remains a mystery. According to research conducted by the Florida Marine Research Institute, in St. Petersburg, FL, there is still much to learn.
What we do know at this point, beyond the fact that they are phenomenal fighters, has been largely gathered from the Institute's ongoing research. Females grow much larger than males and also live a little longer. Males live about 43 years, and females about 55. Tarpon can reach a maximum length of 8 feet, and 280 lbs. Males seldom weigh over 140 pounds, so it's the big females that win tournaments. The all tackle record, to date, was set at 243 pounds by Gus Bell in Key West, February 17, 1975.
While heavy tackle is the most common method used to land these giants, fly-fishing is also a popular method. You might think that a fly rod would limit your potential, however, with proper tackle and patience, fly-fisherman can compete with the best stiff-stick anglers. The current fly-fishing record was set on the Homosassa by William Pate, Jr., May 13, 1982.
The Megalops Atlanticus' range spans from Cape Hatteras to the shores of Texas and all the way down to South America. A different species is also found off the coast of Africa. Tarpon are migratory, and the experts aren't too sure where they go to spawn; but when they do spawn it is with a great deal of enthusiasm. Females are fertile at the age of 10, and spawn on a new or full moon somewhere offshore between the months of May and September, depositing anywhere from 4 to 20 million eggs a year for a 25 to 30 year period. That may sound like a lot of eggs, but perdition takes a very heavy toll. The inch-long tarpon larvae is transparent, has a ribbon-like body and prominent fang-like teeth, and falls victim to just about anything that is hungry. The tarpon's primary food source is crustaceans and small fish, which accounts for the popularity of calico crabs, mullet, pinfish, and squirrel fish as bait. Calico crabs spawn in estuaries along the coast of Florida, and make their way to the gulf on full moon tides in May and June.
Anglers wanting to tackle the Silver King only need to decide what location they want to prospect, and when. During the early spring, tarpon hold up in deep passes like Boca Grande. Later in the spring, they move out onto the beaches where techniques change. This fish can tolerate a wide range of salinity. Juveniles and young adults are often found in fresh water. One of the unusual characteristics of the tarpon is its ability to breathe air at the surface. Large schools of feeding tarpon often surface to gulp air, sending waves of excitement when they surface near anglers. Once they surface you'll know where to start. Getting them to bite is the next challenge, but that's part of the fun. Ninety percent of the fun comes once they take the hook.
Now's the time to go out and try your hand at catching the King.
Check out Cabela's great line of saltwater rods or fly-fishing tackle before you go. It's the first step toward mounting a trophy fish.
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Read King Tarpon's Throne is Boca Grande
for more information on tackling tarpon.
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
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