Florida Keys Tarpon – A Primer for the First-Time Tarpon Angler

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The tarpon seek the shade of the towering bridge piles and hunt the schools of baitfish that congregate here.

“I fish the bridges 95% of the time and catch most of my big fish here,” says Kilgore, a Florida native who has been guiding anglers in search of tarpon, snook and sailfish around the island of Islamorada for 30 years.

Tarpon Most Popular

For Florida charter captains like Kilgore, tarpon are the bread and butter of their business. Anglers flock to the Keys from all over the world in hopes of landing Megalops atlanticus on a bait, lure or fly. There are magazines, TV shows and websites devoted exclusively to tarpon. Although many anglers consider billfish like blue marlin to be the king of the sea, there is a reason these oversized sardines are sought after by sportfishers all over the world.

Fast Action Gamefish

Half an hour after casting the pilchard baits under the shade of the bridge, one of the rods doubled and the line began to scream off the spool. “Reel, quick” Kilgore barked as he gunned the boat into high gear and motored towards the boiling water. As the angler furiously wound line in, the water surface exploded and seventy pounds of silver fury leapt into the air. The tarpon’s scales gleamed like a knight’s armor in the tropical sun as it dove underwater and made a run towards the bridge.

When a fish is hooked in these conditions, it is paramount to get the boat, and the fish, out to open water ASAP to stop the tarpon wrapping the line around a pile and breaking off. Kilgore’s artful seamanship weaved the small craft around and out of the bridge like a Vietnam river gunboat. After a tense, sweaty, arm-stretching battle that lasted half and hour, the tarpon’s sterling, six foot length glided alongside the boat. After a few pictures and backslaps, it was returned to the water to fight another day.

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Saltwater Paradise

While tarpon are the most popular species, the flats and estuaries of the Keys offer a wide array of gamefish to the saltwater angler, including bonefish, snook, barracuda and snapper.

The Keys are a chain of islands built on sportfishing and the traveling angler will find plenty of charters, hotels and tackle shops to cater to his needs.

Prime season for tarpon begins around late April when the migratory schools are making their way from the Gulf of Mexico through the Keys en route to the Atlantic. This is strictly catch-and-release fishing and conservation-minded guides like Killgore will not even take a larger tarpon out of the water for fear of damaging it.

The action dies off around early June, but other species still provide good fishing through out the summer months.

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