If you're on the lookout for a fishing experience that will get your heart racing and your adrenaline pumping, tarpon fishing should be right up your alley. These massive, prehistoric fish have been capturing the imaginations of fishermen for years. Learn more about tarpon, where you can find them – and about some of the largest catches on record – by reading on below.
Basic Facts About Tarpon
Thanks to their unique coloring and glittering scales, tarpon are often referred to as "silver kings." These gargantuan fish have been around since prehistoric times; funnily enough, their anatomy suggests that they are, essentially, oversize minnows. In addition to being close relatives of herring and sardines, tarpon distinguish themselves by being the only fish that have air bladders.
The tarpon's air bladder is a critical distinction. "Rolling," or appearing at the surface of the water and flailing around, is a trademark of the tarpon. They don't do it for kicks, though – their air bladder requires it of them. While the tarpon's unique air bladder requires them to access the surface periodically, it also allows them to live in oxygen-deprived water. This ability gives them a greater range and lets them thrive in areas where other fish simply cannot. Tarpon can be found in freshwater as well as saltwater; they do well in water that is brackish or crystal-clear.
If one thing's for sure, it's that tarpon are incredibly resilient. The average lifespan for this fish is 55 to 60 years; the oldest tarpon in captivity lived to the ripe old age of 63. Mature tarpon grow to be five to eight feet long and can wei
gh between 80 and 150 pounds. They achieve their massive size through a strictly carnivorous diet that usually consists of crabs, insects, grass shrimp and smaller fish. Prey is caught nocturnally and is typically swallowed whole.
The Allure of the Tarpon
"Most people assume that people fish tarpon exclusively for their massive size," notes Anthony Ricigliano, a longtime angler. "Size definitely plays a role in its popularity, but it's not the only important factor." What's the other thing that makes tarpon fishing so addictive? The fish's notoriously feisty nature. "Reeling in the average tarpon is no easy feat," notes Anthony Ricigliano. "They are known for their fighting spirit and for their ferocity." Although fishermen are often clued in to their whereabouts through their trademark rolling exercises, it's nearly impossible to catch a tarpon that's in the middle of doing so. As you can see from the included shots of Ricigliano and a 120-pound tarpon in flight – after being hooked – they are anything but tame.
Where to Find Tarpon
There are many prime places to go fishing for tarpon. Florida's Gulf coast is a popular hunting ground for this tenacious fish. Tampa's Homosassa Springs is considered one of the best places to find exceptionally large tarpon. The Florida Keys is another topnotch tarpon habitat. Some fishermen swear by the western Gulf Coast – South Padre Island is a prime place to enjoy first-rate tarpon fishing. Outside of the U.S., Puerto Rico, Belize's Punta Gorda and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula are all hot tarpon fishing locales.
Tarpon Catching Records of Note
Tarpon catching tournaments are extremely popular, especially in Florida. In fact, a 217-pound tarpon was reeled in during a June 2009 tournament in Boca Grande. For many years, the tarpon fishing record was held by a man who caught a 283-pound specimen at Lake Maracaibo on March 19, 1956. A 202-pound silver king was nabbed at Chassahowitzka, Florida not very long ago. The largest tarpon on record – a massive, 286-pound specimen – wasn't caught in North America; that fish was caught in Africa's Guinea-Bissau republic.
Huge, feisty and thrilling – the mighty tarpon encompasses all of those characteristics. If you're after an exhilarating fishing experience, you should put this prehistoric fish at the top of your to-do list.