Know Your Sportfish

Fin identification helps to correctly identify your catch. *Click to enlarge.

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: MyFWC.com A great many kinds of fish are protected by conservation laws that may include licenses, daily bag limits, possession limits, minimum and maximum size limits, permitting and other legal requirements. Many different jurisdictions and agencies are involved in managing the fisheries—at least a half-dozen in Florida alone, to say nothing of other countries—and their regulations sometimes conflict.

In Florida, information is available from such sources as Florida Sportsman Magazine, county courthouses and many tackle shops. Visitors to Florida or the Islands usually are able to get the needed information from their travel agents, resorts, fishing camps or charter captains. Visit www.myfwc.com www.myfwc.com or www.floridasportsman.com for the most current fisheries regulations.



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The Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus

Green or steel blue above, silver on sides and belly. Deep, thick body; forked tail. Long trailer at end of dorsal fin.

OTHER NAMES: Silver King, Sabalo 

DESCRIPTION: Green or steel blue above, silver on sides and belly. Deep, thick body; forked tail. Long trailer at end of dorsal fin.

SIZE: From 12 inches or less to about 75 pounds, on average, although big fish of 100 to 150 pounds are numerous in many areas. World record 286 pounds, 9 ounces; Florida record 243 pounds.


GAME QUALITIES: Famous for the spectacle and frequency of its jumps. Giant Tarpon don’t quite match the acrobatics of the smaller ones, but they leap frequently enough in shallow water, and with even more fury.

TACKLE AND BAITS: Anglers seeking big fish in passes, channels, deep bays and surf areas like stout tackle with lines testing at least 30 pounds. All sizes of spinning, baitcasting and fly tackle get lots of play for smaller fish.The same types of gear, although of heavier proportions, are also used for big fish on shallow flats. Use at least 15-pound line on spinning and casting gear, and at least a 10-weight fly outfit with minimum 16-pound tippet. Heavy monofilament leaders or tippets are required because of the Tarpon’s very rough mouth. Drift-fishermen in the passes and inlets prefer live baits—mainly small crabs and small fish. All Tarpon will take dead baits, such as a Mullet head or half Mullet, fished patiently on bottom. For trolling or surfcasting with heavier gear, large jigs, spoons and lipped plugs get the call. Generally, casters enjoy the most success with swimming plugs, jerk plugs and surface plugs. Fly fishermen rely heavily on scissor-action feather streamers and bulky bucktail streamers.

FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting; Drifting; Still Fishing; Trolling.

RANGE: All Florida coasts plus the Greater Antilles and some other Caribbean islands, including the Virgin and Cayman Islands. Scattered in the Bahamas, where it is most plentiful around Andros but also present elsewhere, including Bimini, the Berry Islands, and the Exumas.

HABITAT: Fishable throughout Florida in warm months, including the Panhandle, but adults are largely confined to South Florida in the winter. Major fishing efforts for big Tarpon are directed at live-baiting in large passes, inlets, channels and river mouths throughout the state, and at sight-fishing with fly and casting tackle on shallow flats in the Keys and on the lower Gulf Coast from Homosassa southward. Large and medium Tarpon also are found off the beaches and in the surf of both coasts at times, and many are hooked from bridges and piers, especially at night. Medium-size fish are common in a variety of settings in South and Central Florida, including freshwater rivers and landlocked canals.Tiny juveniles inhabit landlocked canals and ditches. 

  • Lawrie Jeffrey

    I will be in Crystal River Florida this winter and I would like to try to catch a tarpon. I have seen them cruising in schools of 4 to 8 fish in King’s Bay(fresh water) during the day and have had them grab snapper and ladyfish when fishing after dark. Is dead baiting a good idea? How big a hook should I use and how heavy a leader? If anyone out there can giveme some pointers, it would be greatly appreciated.

    • Logan Earwood

      Smaller tarpon hit green backs shrimp i would us 25 pound test at least and either mono or florcarban leade attacked by a swivek us a 34wight and have close to two foot of leader it will jump when it hits good luck

      • Lawrie Jeffrey

        Thanks Logan. I didn’t make it south this winter and my friends were saying the fishing around Crystal River was excellent this year. Although I have a summer of excellent fishing ahead of me up here in the north, I’m looking forward to getting back down there for the winter.

  • Nick Melinda


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    C.C. Corey having an exciting day going after Big Tarpon in St. Augustine, Florida.
    Filmed with a Go