Tarpon are one of the most popular fish in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Gulf of Mexico. While they aren’t caught for the table, their strong bodies and energetic nature make them a top choice for anglers who want a challenging fish and an exciting fight. Often found near structure, especially bridges, these saltwater fish can reach 300 pounds and achieve lengths of seven feet. Without a doubt, they are a thrilling animal to pursue, but you need the right approach and the right techniques, or your tarpon fishing will only end in frustration.
Live Bait is a Great Choice
While many anglers will use lures to attract these prehistoric fish, most tarpons are caught with live bait. Tarpons aren’t too choosy about what they eat, but most hooks are baited with shrimp, crabs, mullet, and pinfish. Make sure you are using strong enough leaders, because tarpon have rough mouths, sharp gill plates, and scales that can wear down fishing line.
Use the Correct Drag Setting
Having your drag set to the right tension is important for any fish, but it’s especially vital for tarpon, a hard-fighting species with lots of energy. If you set your drag too loose, you give the tarpon free rein to run as much as it wants without tiring. However, set the line too tight, and the tarpon can easily snap off in a flash. The best bet is usually to start loose and slowly work the tension tighter.
Let the Tarpon Run When it Wants
While we’re on the topic of drag, always remember to let a tarpon run when it wants. Fighting and resisting the tarpon can only lead to problems (specifically, a lost fish), so let it have its run and regain the line when it tires. If you are fishing in open water, it is easy to let the fish run. However, if you are near structure, you may need to fight the fish a little harder or chase the tarpon so he can’t escape to into an area that could break your line.
Dip the Rod During a Leap
One of the things that make tarpon so popular is their incredible jumps. They are renowned for their leaping ability, and while these dances can leave you dumbstruck, you need to stay alert. “Bow to the king” is the technique tarpon anglers recommend. This is where you drop the tip of the pole, reducing tension and the chance of a snapped line. While this runs against conventional fishing wisdom, it is an important technique when fighting the heavy-thrashing tarpon.
Keep the Head Up When Close to the Boat
Fish are most likely to run and thrash during two occasions: when they initially feel the pressure of the hook and when they first see the boat. Don’t let them dive underneath the boat or go any deeper. Do what you can to keep their head up so they have nowhere to run.
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