Tarpon, the Mighty Silver King
Summer means lots of heat in the Sunshine State. That adds up to warmer water and the arrival of one of the greatest game fish in the world: the Tarpon (aka Silver King). Megalops atlanticus is the scientific name for this species. It is identifiable by its large eyes, large silver scales, green to black back, and an acrobatic ability that would make most stunt pilots green with envy. Tarpon can grow to more than 8 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds; not shabby for a fish that loves to inhabit inshore waters. They are noted for having the ability to roll and gulp air, giving them the ability to survive in low oxygenated waters and travel into freshwater rivers.
Tarpon eat a wide variety of food, from the tiniest minnows to large mullet, shrimp, crabs, and more. One of the most awesome sights we witness was a hatching of baby snakes trying to cross a canal filled with tarpon. The tarpon were crashing and eating them as fast as the snakes entered; fish spaghetti maybe. This vast diet makes them a great target for anglers, although it can also make them finicky on their selection. When tarpon are keyed in to a specific bait, they rarely accept anything that isn’t the same size, color, or shape. Another particular thing about tarpon is their habit of feeding with a certain area of the water column. If you are lucky, they will be feeding near the surface. This makes them a much easier target. However, if they are diving back down to the depths, it takes a little time to locate the right depth for their feeding. Patience is a must at this point.
Still, there is little that compares when a tarpon eats your offering. No matter the size of the fish, they normally begin an aerial display when they are hooked. Watching a huge fish leap from the water, twisting and turning, the sun reflecting from shiny, silver, wet scales, water glistening as it is thrown through the air, and the awesome sound of the fish’s gills rattling will make every angler’s and guide’s heart rate pulse. The sight is one an angler will never forget. Smaller fish, less than 80 pounds, will usually keep this aerial display up for the majority of the battle. During this time, the angler must remember to “bow” to the king, or risk the hook pulling or leader snapping. Larger fish will jump for a few moments and then put your fish fighting abilities to the limit. They will head down, using their girth and powerful muscles to give you the ultimate tug-o-war battle. A good angler will down how to exert side pressure, crushing the fish’s spirit. An angler not familiar with fish of this caliber will often find themselves in a battle that can over an hour; not an easy task in hot, humid conditions.
In the end, if you are lucky enough to overcome the odds, the reward is looking into the eye of one of the most beautiful fish in the world. The way the sun sparkles over their body, the varying colors of their backs, and that large eye that appears to be looking into your soul all make this a spectacular moment.
After the fight, we take the time needed to revive the fish, rewarding it for giving us a few moments of glory. Maybe a picture during this stage, and then the terrific moment of watching the fish swim off, to live and breed.
Tarpon are here, and they are a blast. While fly fishing is usually the preferred method, I have the conventional tackle and knowledge to fish for them in any manner. This past Monday we put three in the air within an hour. Not a bad way to spend a morning.
Of course, redfish, seatrout and snook are all still available too. Just seems the Silver King likes to rule most trips right now.
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