Tarpon Fishing in the Florida Keys: A Complete Guide
Jul 14, 2021 | 6 minute read Comments
2
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Florida Keys, one of the most well preserved marine ecosystems in the Sunshine State, is the place to be if you’re looking for an exciting Tarpon fishing adventure. “Silver Kings” are the stuff of legends in this area, and it’s no surprise that anglers come here every year for their slice of the pie.

You’ll find Tarpon in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico. These monsters are some of the most prized game fish, thanks to their incredible fighting abilities. They can grow to impressive sizes, with the average catch coming in at around 30–80 pounds. Record-breakers, on the other hand, reach over 200 pounds!

Tarpon jumping out of the water in the Florida Keys

Tarpon thrive in shallow waters, thanks to their ability to gulp air by rolling at the surface. The waters around the Florida Keys are their perfect habitat, so it’s no wonder that it’s the most famous place in the world to go after these silver beauties.

Revered for their endurance, Tarpon are known for breaking lines and leaving anglers wanting more. Catching one of these shiny beasts is an angler’s rite of passage, so you should definitely put it on your fishing list. Read on to find out more about Tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys, and how to get ready for your trip.

How do I catch Tarpon in the Florida Keys?

There’s a variety of ways you can go about your Tarpon fishing adventure. You’re probably wondering what bait to use, and what the best techniques are. If it’s your first time, it might be good to book a trip with an experienced charter captain who can show you the ropes. But if you’re up to the challenge, we’ve got you covered there too, so read on!

Sight Casting

Since you can’t locate Tarpon well in deeper waters, they’re normally caught close to shore, on the flats. This is where sight casting is the most popular technique. Using natural bait is the best way to entice the bite of Silver Kings. Shrimp or crabs, as well as pilchards, mullet, and pinfish, all work great.

The shallow waters of the Florida Keys

When you spot one, cast your bait in front of the fish close enough for it to see it, and allow your bait to drop down. Tarpon are very easily spooked, so it’s important to make sure you’re not making any unnecessary noise. Also, make sure you use a sharp circle hook, or else you won’t be able to set it due to their bony mouths.

Trolling

While it may not be as commonly used, another fun technique to use when going after big Tarpon is trolling. Slow trolling with live baits is a great way to cover a lot of ground and let the rods do the work for you. Deploy two baits, like pinfish, behind the boat at different distances, and put the rods in the holders. If you’re planning on using artificials, topwater plugs and spoons work great.

Fishing rods set up on a boat for trolling

All you have to do then is slowly drive the boat, relax, and cover the water. For even better results, try using a multi-bait setup. Have a shrimp on one line, crab on the other, and maybe put down a big pinfish on a third rod. Spread the lines out when trolling to avoid tangling, and wait for that beast to bite!

Fly Fishing

For those of you who are really looking for a challenge, fly fishing for Tarpon is something you have to try. Arm yourself with patience and save your energy, because this experience is not for the faint of heart. It’s a rewarding activity though, and it feels more personal than other techniques.

Fly fishing for Tarpon off Islamorada in the Florida Keys

For tackle, use an 11–12 weight fly outfit. When Tarpon fishing, quick casts are necessary, so use floating weight-forward fly lines with a short 30–38 foot head.

The important thing here is to pick the right flies, as you need to choose a color that has a good contrast with the bottom of the fishery. If you’re fishing over sandy bottoms, orange, yellow, and red patterns work very well. Light colors like blue and green are more effective for fishing over dark grass.

Where do I go Tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys?

The Florida Keys are known as a Tarpon fishing hot spot, and no matter where you decide to cast your line, you can’t go wrong. Some spots are more productive than others though, so we’ve compiled a handy list of places to visit for the best Tarpon fishing.

An infographic showing the top Tarpon fishing spots in the Florida Keys, including Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and Key West
  • Key Largo: The best time to go after Tarpon in Key Largo is in March and April on the flats. Some big fish may also linger around the bridges for a bit longer. There’s a brief second Tarpon run in September and October that can sometimes be very prolific.
  • Islamorada: Probably the epicenter of Tarpon fishing in the Keys, anglers target big Tarpon around the bridges here. Sight fishing the flats and shallows can also yield great results in Islamorada. The best time to do so is during the summer months.
  • Marathon: Thousands of Tarpon pass through Marathon every year during spring and summer. Some world-famous spots are around the Seven Mile Bridge, where you’ll find those giant specimens.
  • Big Pine Key: You’ll find Tarpon around the channels here, and the Bahia Honda Bridge is especially productive. In spring and summer, you can reel in large migratory Tarpon, but there are some residents that will also keep you busy well after high season.
  • Key West: This is one of the best Tarpon fishing destinations in the world, as they tend to stay in this part of the Florida Keys all year long. With crystal clear waters, Key West will provide you with incredible sight fishing for Silver Kings. Get ready for sore arms!

Tarpon Fishing Season in the Florida Keys

Tarpon are highly migratory, making them available only at certain times of the year. Every spring, thousands of Tarpon pass through the Florida Keys on their migratory path. This is why visiting from April–July will see you joining a real Tarpon fishing frenzy. What’s more, you can catch them on both sides, Gulf and Atlantic!

An angler releasing a big Tarpon

While Tarpon are rarely caught out of season in the US, the Florida Keys have an advantage. Thanks to the warm waters and the subtropical climate, Tarpon tend to stick around here for longer than usual. This means you can catch them from March through September, while juvenile Tarpon stick around throughout the year.

This means one thing, Tarpon are never out of season in the Florida Keys! Whenever you decide to embark on this adventure, you’ll have your hands full.

Anything else I need to know?

There are some things you should be aware of before you hop on a boat and set out on your quest for the Silver King. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the fishing regulations in the Florida Keys, as Tarpon is a catch-and-release only species in Florida. They’re one of the most prestigious game fish in the world, so it’s important to protect these shiny giants.

An infographic with the Florida flag and the text: "Tarpon fishing regulations in Florida"

You can buy a Tarpon tag for around $50, so if you’re pursuing an IGFA world record, you can use it to retain the fish. But know that you’re limited to one tag per person per year. Also, when it comes to Tarpon fishing gear, you’re limited to hook and line only. Now that you know all the rules, we’re sure you’re ready to have a great time on the water!

Tarpon Fishing in the Florida Keys – One of a Kind

What makes Tarpon fishing so special in the Florida Keys? Well, it really is one of a kind. Nowhere else in the world can you find these silvery creatures in such large numbers, all throughout the year. Not to mention the amazing weather, stunning crystal clear waters and natural views. Tarpon fishing here is truly the experience of a lifetime.

A man feeding a Tarpon in the Florida Keys that's jumping out of the water

Have you ever been Tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys? How was it? Tell us all about it in the comments below, or ask any questions you may have. We love to hear from you!

Comments (2)
  • Jim

    Jun 20, 2021

    Fly fishing for tarpon in the Everglades on the small islands that face open sea was a bonus with Captain Ned. My fishing buddy and I both had two cracks at tarpon with fly rod, we both struck out! Excitement ruined the cast each time, as we both were like youngsters. An old man hopes to go back again, but time is not helping any. A blessed life is one that has experienced many facets of such a wonderful, awesome and beautiful creation. Thanks for the insightful account of an intriguing area.

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *

    • Reply icon

      Vule

      Jun 21, 2021

      Hi Jim,

      We’re glad you got to relive some memories through reading about the Keys! Sounds like you’ve done some great fishing in your life. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

      Tight Lines,

      Vule

      Leave a reply
      NameRequired *
      Your comment Required *

    Leave a reply
    NameRequired *
    Your comment Required *