Tarpons are large, air breathing fish of the genus, Megalops, and they’ve been swimming the seas for 18 million years. There are two species, both found in saltwater as well as freshwater habitats. Megalops cyprinoides (Indo-Pacific tarpon) populate the east African coast, southeast Asia, Japan, Tahiti, and Australia. Megalops atlanticus (Atlantic tarpon, aka ‘Silver King’) is native to the Atlantic, and found along the western Atlantic coast from the US state of Virginia to Brazil, throughout the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and on the eastern Atlantic coast from Senegal to South Angola. Since the mid-1960s, there’s been a significant decline of Atlantic tarpon populations in the Gulf of Mexico, most dramatically at Port Aransas, Texas, likely the result of damming of rivers, toxic run-off, dredging of canals and shipping channels, and overfishing.
In 1885, the first tarpon was caught on a rod & reel in Florida. After more than 130 years, tarpon is still considered one of the great saltwater game fish because of its size (tarpon reach a length of 4–8 feet and weigh 60–250+ pounds), extraordinary ability to jump high out of the water, and fast, powerful fight at the end of the line. It’s tough to hook and land a tarpon—about one in eight hookups are successful catches, and a challenge to locate as they’re a warm-water migratory fish.
Florida is considered one of the world’s top destinations for tarpon fishing, with “hot spots” at Boca Grande in southwest Florida, Homosassa, and the Florida Keys. High season is May through July, but records indicate all sizes are caught throughout the year. Other places on the best tarpon fishing list: Yucatan Peninsula (year round); Costa Rica (Fall season); Angola (Dec – Feb); Gabon (late Oct – early Jan); Guinea-Bissau (Feb – March)
WATCH the THRILL of the CATCH! 120 Days: Tarpon Season, a short documentary video from Felt Soul Media, captures a close-up view of the sport, featuring tarpon fishing guide, David Magnum, in his fervent search for the Silver King in the beautiful waters of Florida.
Tarpon, Texas Parks and Wildlife
Tarpon, Florida Parks and Wildlife Research Institute
Atlantic Tarpon, University of Southern Mississippi
Tarpon Research, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust
Megalops atlanticus-Gulf of Mexico, assessed “Vulnerable” by the International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
The Silver Kings – Once so plentiful. Where did they go? by Stephen Harrigan, Texas Monthly (May, 2013) [Veteran fishing guides recall a time when Port Aransas, Texas was known as “The Tarpon Capital of the World”]
Ready for more water sport adventure? Watch as 8 paddlers set out to break the rafting speed record through the Grand Canyon on the wild and dangerous Colorado River in The Time Travelers video
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Feature photo by Flickr user, Jack, CC BY-NC-ND