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Tarpon are some of the most prized sports fish. Fighting a tarpon for 30 minutes can be a serious exercise even if you have the right-sized equipment. They often grow to over 200 lbs and will test the mettle of even the most experienced saltwater fishermen. Their voracious appetite makes them natural born predators that will strike at many different kinds of lures.
In this article, we’ll cover the best tarpon lures depending on the season/location, where and when to fish for tarpon, as well as what kind of saltwater tackle you should use. By the time you finish reading, you’ll be prepared to hook into a monster tarpon.
In a hurry? Here are the top 5 best tarpon lures from our experience.
Top 5 Best Tarpon Lures
What Are Tarpon?
Let’s start with the basics. Tarpon are saltwater gamefish that frequents the southern part of North America’s east coast. There are actually two species of tarpon, Atlantic Tarpon and Indo-pacific Tarpon. Indo-pacific tarpon are smaller than Atlantic tarpon and aren’t fished nearly as much as their Atlantic cousins. Atlantic tarpon is the species that is most fished, and the type that live in populous areas such as Boca Grande, the Florida Keys, and Tampa Bay. Tarpon are usually found in the ocean, but they are able to survive in brackish water and often hang out near shore and freshwater sources.
Tarpon are large fish. Adults grow to be 4 to 8 feet long and weigh in excess of 200 lbs. They are covered with many large, shiny silver scales and have blueish green fins. Their eyes have adipose eyelids that are used for seeing in the dark and hunting at night. They have very large mouths with a lower jaw that extends further than the rest of their face. This large mouth is used a vacuum to inhale smaller fish that get in their way.
Tarpon eat small baitfish and insects when they’re small, then switch to larger baitfish, crabs, and shrimp as their size increases. Adult tarpon are ferocious carnivores that feed on midwater prey such as shad, sardines, and mullet.
Where Do Tarpon Live?
As we mentioned earlier, Atlantic tarpon live in the Atlantic ocean and migrate up and down the east coast. They go as far south as Costa Rica, and as far north as the Carolinas. During the summer months of May through August, they flock to southern Florida to feed and mate. This is the best season to fish for tarpon. During the winter months, they swim back down south to where the water is warmer.
At a habit level, tarpon enjoy living close to where their prey live. They enjoy living within a mile of shore and often hang out where the depth of the water changes rapidly from shallow to deep. Look for them rolling on the surface or near bridges and docks.
The Proper Tackle for Tarpon
As we mentioned before, tarpon can grow to be quite large. You need to be prepared with the right size fishing tackle to fish for them. We recommend using a large saltwater fishing reel paired with a surfcasting fishing rod. The longer rod and large spinning reel will be able to hold the appropriate test fishing line (40 lb to 60 lb monofilament or braided line).
Tarpon are catch and release only in most waters unless you have purchased a tarpon tag. This is to keep their numbers high and prevent them from being overfished. One tarpon tag may be purchased per person per year. The tarpon tags are for fishermen looking to land an International Gamefish Association record fish. We recommend sticking to catch and release.
Depending on where you fish for tarpon, there may be additional rules on landing them. In Florida, the fish must remain in the water if it measures over 40 inches in length. This is to prevent unnecessarily hurting the fish after landing it. You should also avoid towing a caught tarpon on the side of your boat unless you think it’s necessary to revive it. If you do decide to tow the tarpon, go slowly – no wake!
You should also avoid fishing for tarpon if you spot large sharks nearby. Sharks will recognize the opportunity to bite a tired tarpon and possibly kill your fish.
What are the Best Tarpon Lures?
There are many different fishing techniques that work well for tarpon. Both live/real bait and artificial lures will work depending on your presentation. We’ll cover our favorite techniques and favorite tarpon lures below.
Artificial Tarpon Lures
The best size artificial tarpon lures are between 4 and 8 inches long. Remember, you should use big lures if you want to catch big fish! We really like topwater plugs and imitation shad for tarpon. For imitation shad, the Sebile Magic Swimmer in blue and silver is the best tarpon lure. For topwater plugs, try using a MirrOmullet XL. The action on the MirrOmullet emulates a wounded mullet – something a hungry tarpon can’t resist.
As far as presentation goes, we recommend casting your lure close to where the tarpon are feeding or rolling and retrieving with vigor. Migrating tarpon are hungry and will strike at an annoying lure that gets to close to them. If the action you’re giving your lure isn’t working, try changing your rate of retrieval until you start getting bites!
Natural Tarpon Lures
If you’re planning on using live bait, mullet and shad work especially well – especially during the mullet run. Mullet make a killer live bait if you can find a school of them. Use a large circle hook and an 80 lb monofilament leader to combat the tarpon’s scaly jaws. If you’re not sure what kind of live bait to use, swing into the local fishing shop and talk to the cashier. They’ll more often than not know exactly what you should use.
Fishing for tarpon is often a bucket list activity for fishermen. They’re regarded as some of the most prestigious sports fish and can be caught using a fairly simple spinning setup. Now that you know what the best tarpon lures are, we hope you’re ready to land a big one. Feel free to hit us up in comments if you have other lures that work well, or want to share a crazy tarpon story.