Fishing for Tarpon in the backwaters is an exciting but challenging adventure! Tarpon range in size from one pound juveniles to over 100 pounds, and both sizes can be found in as little as 3-4 feet of water. No matter what size Tarpon you hook into, catching a Silver King is an experience that you will never forget!
Tarpon can be found in many different areas. Juvenile Tarpon will often stay in one area year round until they reach a size where they can then move into bigger bodies of water. There are also areas where the Tarpon can only leave on extreme high tides. In these lakes and ponds, the Tarpon will only reach a size that suits the size of the body of water and the available amount of food. In wintertime, some large Tarpon will move up into rivers to find warmer water such as around power plant run offs. When the water warms up, they will move back out into the open water.
Catching and landing a Tarpon is one of the most difficult things to do as a Tarpon angler. However, hooking into a Tarpon is relatively easy. Hooking a Tarpon is all about finding out what bait that they are feeding on and when. For every ten to fifteen Tarpon that you hook into, you may only get to land one or two of them. In many cases, the battle may be over before you even knew it started. Catching a Tarpon takes knowledge, skill, and a lot of luck.
Looking for Tarpon in the backwaters and bays can be difficult if you have no idea where to look. As I said before, Tarpon along with other species of fish like Snook will move into warm water during the wintertime when the water is cold. If you can find a water runoff from a power plant, you will be able to find Tarpon there. Up in the rivers, even into fresh water you can find Tarpon. Look around bridges, in deep canals, and even up into small creeks. Tarpon will always give themselves away when they come up for air. Tarpon have a swim bladder that they use for breathing underwater, and to help in buoyancy. If a Tarpon cannot get to the surface to breathe, it will die. Therefore, an easy way to find Tarpon is to look for their signature roll. When they surface for air, they make a rolling movement and you will see their head surface and then the rest of their body roll when they swim back down. Watch for fins breaking the surface of the water.
Due to the sizes of Tarpon, there is specific tackle that you must use to catch them. Your fishing rod should be in a medium heavy-to-heavy action, and 6 and a half to 7 feet long. The fishing reel should be one that can hold line in the 20 to 40 pound range, such as the 4000 series reels. Always use a good strong leader, like 40 to 60 pound test fluorocarbon. Depending on what lure or bait you are using, that will determine the leader length to use. If you are using topwater plugs, you will need to keep your leader shorter since fluorocarbon line is heavy and it will drag the front of the lure down. Otherwise, use a leader that is at least 2 feet long and up to 6 feet.
Tarpon like to eat many different types of fish and seafood. Tarpon like baitfish such as Pinfish, Mullet, Ladyfish, Threadfins, and white bait. They will also eat Crab and Shrimp. In the rivers and freshwater, try using Catfish as bait, but be sure to cut the barbs off of the fins first.
Tackle is also an important consideration once you determine the bait that you are going to use. Floats or popper corks are good to use to keep your bait off of the bottom. Normally 2 feet between the popper cork and the hook is good, but adjust the ratio depending on the water depth where you are fishing. Whenever fishing live or dead bait, try to use circle hooks. Always use hooks sized to your bait. You do not want to use a hook that is too small and weak. A Tarpon is a very strong fish, and they can easily straighten a weak hook. You also do not want to use too big of a hook, because this will make your live bait not look natural when it is swimming. If you are not sure what size hook to use, ask your local tackle shop what hook works best for what size bait.
Lures have always been a great way to hook Tarpon. The key to lures is finding out what they are interested in that day. You may find one day that they are smashing topwater lures and the next day they will not even give it a look. What I have found is that any lure that gives good flash and vibration seems to work best when fishing for Tarpon. Gold and copper colored spoons work well in canals and deeper water. If you’re fishing in grass beds then use a weedless type of spoon. Because of the flash, these lures work good in stained or murky water. In clear water, lures like the Catch 2000 do a good job. This lure is a suspended lure and is great for midlevel fishing. Jigs and soft bait have also been good for Tarpon. What I have found is that white baits like Z-TOO and light color baits with flecks like D.O.A shrimp work very good, but seem to work best when giving a fast twitch while reeling in slowly. Jigs with light colored bodies and red heads work good bouncing off bottom.
When you see Tarpon rolling, look to see what direction they are moving. Try to put your bait or lure a few yards in front of where you seen them. If you put your fishing lure where they just rolled, there is a good chance that they are no longer in that spot. Try to always put distance between you and them. Tarpon have very good eyesight and hearing. If you are fishing from a boat, put the boat well ahead of the fish and off to the side of the school. If you have a trolling motor, use it. Remember, silence is the key here – Do not crank up your engine and scream ahead of them because now they know that you are there and will change direction.
When you hook into a Tarpon, you will need to learn how to bow to the king. No, this is not a respect thing; this is something you need to learn so that you can keep the fish from shaking the hook. Every time a Tarpon jumps, it shakes its head trying to remove the hook. If you are pulling on the fish at this time the hook in most cases will come out. Therefore, what you need to do is point your pole at the fish and even bow towards the fish to give enough slack so that the hook remains in the lip of the fish. This still does not mean you will catch the Tarpon, but it does increase your odds of landing it.
When you are graced with catching a Tarpon, always give the fish respect. Handle the fish properly so it can survive to be caught again and produce more great fish like itself. Never hang the fish by its gills or mouth. Cradle the fish horizontally, and only do this if you are taking a picture. It is always best to keep the fish in the water and take the hook out. Make sure you give the fish time to revive before letting it go. Large fish should never be removed from the water, as doing so is almost certain death for the fish. Just hang your head over the side and take the picture. Use common sense and respect for these great fish, as they got the name Silver King for a reason.
I hope that this article gave you a few tips and tricks on how to catch backwater Tarpon! The Silver King is beautiful, and I hope that we all can continue to catch them for years to come!