Some charter captains spend there whole career only fishing for tarpon. People do this because fishing for tarpon is both challenging and exciting.
Tarpon are found in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Most tarpon travel south of the United States during the winter months.
Some tarpon remain in the US year round. The tarpon that stay typically live in the Gulf of Mexico and are juvenile tarpon under 40 inches long.
Tarpon also remain in some Florida marinas year round because the fish are well fed by people at bait cleaning stations. This means that just because you see tarpon in Florida does not mean that it is tarpon season. Tarpon season starts in early April and goes through the summer into late September.
Typically, I go to the Seven Mile Bridge or the Bahia Honda Bridge and look to see if tarpon have started stacking up at the bridge pilings early in the season. If mullet start to filling up the flats, that is also a sign that it is tarpon season. The spring time is pre-spawn for tarpon and these fish follow the mullet to feed on them. This makes fresh mullet the best bait in the spring time.
I have fished for tarpon at Boca Grande Pass and in the Florida Keys which are both world class fishing locations. I hooked about 20 tarpon before I landed a fish. Hopefully this article will help you catch a tarpon on your next fishing trip! Below I discuss how to catch tarpon and the best lures and baits to use when tarpon fishing.
Here Are The Best Tarpon Lures and Baits
1. Dead Mullet with a Circle Hook
When I started fishing for tarpon I would use small patch crabs and would drift them right in front of tarpon and they would not seem interested. I was told live mullet is the way to go and switch to that and had better luck, especially at dusk but at times tarpon would still not bite. Then I learned more about tarpon and that they are lazy scavenger feeders and dead bait not only works but works great! This was great news because keeping mullet alive was lots of work. I found that fresh dead mullet out fishes any bait I have found and tarpon even bite during the day as long as the tarpon approaches the bait rather than the bait approaching the tarpon.
Fresh dead mullet is the best bait. The tail should be cut off and the fish filleted a few inches back on each side starting at the back of the fish. Cutting the fish this way releases more scent into the water.
VMC size 9/0 circle hooks are ideal for tarpon fishing.
Lightweight slotted foam bobbers are good floats for live and dead bait. Dead bait is typically set less than four feet from the float using 50-80 pound fluorocarbon leader.
Seaguar blue label 50-80 pound fluorocarbon leader.
Mustad 9/0 circle hook is another good circle hook for tarpon.
2. Live Mullet or Crabs with Float
The text book answer for “should I use crabs of mullet for tarpon” is that live mullet works good pre spawn until about mid July and then crabs should be used in late summer. In reality it depends on the day, some days everyone is catching them on crabs and other days only mullet. Personally I am patient when tarpon fishing and note on which tides the tarpon swim trough certain areas. If you see tarpon passing through they are typically feeding and will bite fresh bait.
Fresh live mullet can be caught with a cast net. On certain days having fresh live bait gives an advantage to fishing dead bait.
VMC circle hook size 9/0 for big live bait like a mullet and size 7/0 for smaller bait like a pilchard.
Foam floats for live bait. Live bait like mullet and crabs should be put about 15 feet off the bobber when fishing near deep bridge pilings with current. A short leader 1-three feet should be used in shallow water without current. A four foot fluorocarbon leader with 50 pound test should be used for an average size tarpon.
3. Hogy Tarpon Lures
Ten inch rigged weightless black hodgy. This lure is perfect for casting at rolling tarpon at dust and at night.
Seven inch white original hodgy. This is a good bait in clear water on bright days.
Hodgy hook with bait keeper. This is used with the hodgy bodies.
When casting far the hodgy can slip off the hook even if the hook has a keeper. Using superglue to secure the hook allows for far casting with the bait properly staying on the hook.
Nine inch four ounce hodgy eel jig. Good for when tarpon are stacked up deep on a bridge piling or underwater mound.
4. DOA Lures
TerrorEyz 3 inch 1/4 ounce clear jig. This is good for sight casting at juvenile tarpon.
Four inch 5/8 ounce bait buster. Black and white bunker color. Good for tarpon jigging.
DOA 1 1/4 ounce Swimming Mullet Jig. Good for tarpon jigging.
5. Badonk A Donk Single Hook
If you prefer casting plugs and covering lots of water the Bomer Badonk-A-Donk is the way to go. Replacing the treble hook with a single hooks is a good idea for tarpon plugs. Singe hooks make it safer for the fish and for the fisherman during the release process.
Bomer Badonk-A-Donk Speckled trout low pitch 3 1/2 inch, 1/2 ounce plug with size 1 single hooks if the treble hooks are replaced. The 4 inch plug is 3/4 ounce and would use size 2/0 single hooks.
Bomer Badonk-A-Donk Redhead flash high pitch 3 1/2 inch, 1/2 ounce plug with size 1 single hooks if the treble hooks are replaced. The 4 inch plug is 3/4 once and would use size 2/0 single hooks.
VMC InLine circle hooks work good as replacements for treble hooks on plugs.
Split ring pliers make changing hooks on plugs easier.
Black Nickel or Silver split rings in various sizes. These split rings seem strong for each size compared to other split rings. The black nickel are stronger than the silver but both options should work good.
6. Tarpon Fly
In most cases I think dead mullet will out fish flies for large tarpon. However catching tarpon on a fly is more challenging which makes it more fun when it works out. Also tarpon spook easily so quietly presenting a small bait can definitely catch fish. Fishing with a fly is all about location and being able to sight fish. In many areas in Florida juvenile tarpon can be caught on flies year round.
Size 1 or 1/0 tarpon flies including tarpon bunny toad, tarpon rat, tarpon tapas and black death.
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. I hope these suggestions help you catch more tarpon!
If you have any suggestions for top tarpon lures and baits, leave a comment below!
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands and Alaska. Cody grew up in Pennsylvania and has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!