Nicknamed the “silver king,” fighting a big tarpon should be on every angler’s bucket list. For those who have never known the thrill, OF hooking into a behemoth tarpon on light tackle or a fly rod. It will leave you with an addiction you may never shake. Inhabiting both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, tipping the scale at up to 350 pounds and remaining unchanged since the dinosaurs ruled the earth, tarpon has earned their just place in fishing lore and legend. First-timers willing to risk the addiction and veteran tarpon chasers looking for their next fix can go it on their own or book tarpon fishing tours in many areas around the world. Here are some of the best places to catch tarpon throughout their range in the United States and Central America:
The Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State is the undisputed hotbed of tarpon fishing in the U.S., where anglers can chase tarpon on the flats and the gulf coast. Here are seven of the best spots:
Located about a three-hour drive south of Miami, Islamorada is a collection of six Florida Keys. The area is one of the most renowned trophy tarpon fishing destinations in the world. The Islamorada Tarpon Club works to ensure the hot spot remains a pristine location for anglers and fish.
• Key West
The flats and the Gulf of Mexico surrounding Key West, with an abundant food supply of shrimp, mullet, and crabs, are prime waters for catching tarpon. Some of the best spots around Key West are the area’s larger oyster beds. The area also has numerous charters offering tarpon fishing tours.
• Boca Grande
Boca Grande Pass is world-renowned for attracting massive numbers of tarpon from far and wide to gorge on the food the consistent ocean currents bring in. Other prime spots include Charlotte Harbor and Gasparilla Sound.
• Crystal Springs
Located at the head of Kings Bay, Three Sisters Springs, with its fertile ocean beds, is one of the most productive spots in Florida for catching huge tarpon. The nearby Crystal River, as well as Mason Creek and Fort Island Trail also provide great opportunities.
• Tarpon Springs
It should come as no surprise that one of the best places to catch tarpon is in a town called Tarpon Springs. The best spots here are the Anclote River, St. Joseph Sound, and the gulf itself. However, as the rules frequently change here throughout the season, it is imperative to stay abreast of the fishing regulations.
• Miami/Key Biscayne
The most popular locations around Miami and Key Biscayne are the Biscayne Bay flats, Haulover Inlet, and the Intracoastal Waterway at North Miami Beach. Haulover Inlet offers the biggest challenge for experienced anglers, and the pilings and inlets of the Intracoastal Waterway are the better bet for novice tarpon hunters.
• Everglades National Park
The coves, creeks, and bays of Everglades National Park all hold large resident tarpon populations and attract thousands of migrating fish yearly. Hundred-pound-plus fish are common here, but as this is a national park, be careful to understand both Florida and the park’s regulations.
Boarding the Gulf of Mexico, the gulf coast of Texas has two major tarpon hot spots:
• Galveston Bay
Tarpon are found throughout Galveston Bay and actively feed around pilings, jetties, and shorelines wherever baitfish congregate.
• Port O’Connor
Large populations of big tarpon inhabit the bays and backwater channels of Port O’Connor. The fish tend to school up near pilings and jetties in the deeper waters.
With its crystal-clear waters of the coastal marshlands and brackish backwater bayous, these two areas of Louisiana are somewhat of sleeper spots for tarpon:
• Coastal Marshes
All of the salt marshes along the Louisiana gulf coast all present solid opportunities for chasing big tarpon. The clear marsh water allows for spotting large schools of tarpon hunting crab and shrimp in the shallows.
• Bayou Country
The best places in Louisiana’s Bayou Country to find tarpon are the Atchafalaya Basin and the Calcasieu River, as well as Lake Charles and Lake Pontchartrain. While the Atchafalaya Basin holds some of the biggest tarpons in the state, Lake Pontchartrain is the best spot for smaller fish.
Tarpons are found all along the waters of the North Carolina coastline, with some of the best areas being Pamlico Sound, the Cape Fear River, and the Outer Banks.
Separating Panama and Nicaragua in southern Central America, Costa Rica’s coastal shores are loaded with big tarpon:
Located near the Panamanian border, the coastal waters of the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge hold large numbers of tarpon, with 100-pounders being common. Gandoca Lagoon and the mouth of the Sixaola River are two of the best spots.
• Rio Colorado
Set on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Rio Colorado’s tarpon are found along the shoreline and up to two miles offshore when the fish move into the ocean in the fall.
While it was marlin and yellowfin tuna that put the country’s fishing industry on the map, Panama is one of the only places in the world where anglers can book luxury fishing trips to take tarpon from both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean as well as from freshwater:
• Panama Canal
Thanks to the countless gallons of water filling the locks each time a ship moves through, tarpon are found on both sides of the Panamanian coast and the canal itself. While the population in the canal is not large, the experience of fighting a silver king in one of the seven wonders of the modern world is worth the time.
• Bayano River
Located less than two miles east of Panama City, The Bayano River just may be the first place in the Pacific Ocean where anglers can realistically target tarpon thanks to the Panama Canal letting the fish cross through. However, fishing in the river is very dependent on the tidal flow.
• Bocas del Toro Archipelago
The islands, lagoons, rivers, and mangroves of Bocas del Toro create an ideal habitat for a small resident population of fish and attract hordes of migrating tarpon to the Changuinola and Sixaola Rivers in late spring.
The tarpon has rightfully earned the status of royalty among anglers, and many feel it has no equal in the sport-fishing world. If you are ready to go after tarpon, you can set up a trip on your own or book an adventure with a reputable agent. For more information on luxury fishing trips, contact Joe Rossi at Wildside Adventures at wildsidejoe.com or call Joe at 412-352-8703. Wildside Joe books tarpon fishing tours, including Central America fishing tours, as well as fishing and hunting trips all over the world. Joe hosted “Joe’s Wildside Adventures,” that aired for ten years on the Sportsman Channel, ROOT Sports, and FOX. Visit Joe’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/@WildsideJoe.