Fishing for tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) first became an attraction along Florida’s Gulf Coast as early as the late 19th century, in what is now the greater Fort Myers’ area. An 1885 article in Forest & Stream Magazine (later Field & Stream) reported a tarpon landed on hook and line for the first time. Soon, word spread internationally of a unique wilderness, in a balmy climate conducive to health, offering the opportunity to target a fish unrivaled in power, beauty, and intelligence.
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Because of conservation, many tarpon still migrate through the same waters. Using satellite tagging technology, scientists have followed tarpon from the Florida Keys to the mouth of the Mississippi River. As water temperatures rise, tarpon swim north along the Gulf Coast. Those afflicted with tarpon fever return to hotspots year in and year out, choosing dates and location carefully.
By March, tuned-in captains find fish in the warm shallows of backcountry tributaries and in Florida Bay. Tarpon pour through the region into July. Some folks stay in the Florida Keys and run over to Everglades National Park by boat to fish. Others stay in Miami and drive to Flamingo. Everglades City/Chokoloskee, in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, is another great option. These fish respond to live bait, lures, and flies.
Tarpon literally put Fort Myers on the map and remains a favorite May/June destination for tarpon aficionados. Fishing the crab hatch in Boca Grande Pass is intense if a bit close-quartered. It is a deep-water fishery where jigs and live crabs work best. Surrounding Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound offer the traditional sight-casting shots in clear, shallow water prized by fly anglers. Flies and select soft-plastic baits fool giant tarpon migrating along the beaches, too. Mangrove creeks offer opportunities to entice juvenile tarpon year-round.
Think of Florida’s largest bay as a pit stop for tarpon. Thanks to ongoing efforts to keep pollution in check, the bay boasts 1950s levels of seagrass coverage, which produces pinfish and other fatty, easy-to-catch forage for those hard-swimming fish. May through July, tarpon congregate on clear, shallow flats around Ana Maria Island and Egmont Key. Anglers also target them in the shadow of the Skyway Bridge, which spans the bay. A mix of tactics are appropriate, with fly and light-tackle anglers working the flats and tributaries, such as the Hillsboro and Manatee rivers. Live bait works best around the bridges.
During the 1970s and 80s, the world’s best saltwater guides and fly anglers converged come May in Florida’s Big Bend area, home to one of North America’s largest salt marsh and seagrass estuaries. They were all on a quest to own a world record, and records were shattered again and again. The competition was fierce, the rivalries legendary. Today, the scene is calmer, and this serene backwater offers a quiet getaway in a gorgeous wilderness setting where great fishing for tarpon is all but guaranteed.
Better known for oysters than tarpon, many local devotees to the silver king would like to keep it that way. Relatively recently, a handful of guides have pioneered a stretch of coast that includes Panama City and Port St. Joe. Much of this marshy coast remains undeveloped, and the fish receive little pressure. Anglers get many shots at slow-swimming fish over sandy flats and lush seagrass meadows.
Lords of the Fly, by Monte Burke Glory of the Silver King, By Dr. Brandon Shuler A Passion for Tarpon, by Andy Mill
Updated on December 6, 2022
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