Key West Tarpon Fishing | Detailed Guide

Tarpon Fishing Key West

Tarpon is known for its silver scales and long bodies. They can grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh over 300 pounds! Tarpons are usually found along the Atlantic Coast, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, but they have been known to migrate as far as South America. They prefer warm water temperatures between 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tarpon in general are tropical, migratory fish, so you can find them in shallow waters around reefs and flats. They feed mainly on crabs, shrimp, mullet, small crustaceans, and sometimes even other smaller fish.

Key West, Florida is known as one of the best places in the world to go tarpon fishing. With its beautiful crystal-clear waters and abundant sea life, it’s easy to see why. The tarpon in Key West ranges from 50 pounds all the way up to 200!

When hooked they fight hard, often leaping high out of the water and performing aerial acrobatics. It’s an amazing sight to see! Key West has some of the best hotspots for tarpon fishing. From the flats to the channels, these waters have plenty of opportunities for even beginner anglers to land a big one.

Understanding Tarpon

Scientific NameMegalops atlanticus
Average sizeUp to 8 feet
Average weightUp to 280 pounds
ColorBright silver with blue-green or gray back and dorsal fin
HabitatCoastal and estuarine waters, including bays, lagoons, and mangrove swamps
DistributionAtlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea
DietSmall fish, shrimp, crabs, and occasionally squid
BehaviorCapable of breathing air and surviving in low-oxygen environments, known for spectacular jumps when hooked
Conservation StatusNot threatened, but vulnerable to overfishing and habitat loss

Tarpons are a species of large, saltwater fish that can grow up to 4-8 feet in length and weigh up to 280 lbs. They have large scales, a compressed and elongated body, and a deep forked caudal fin. Without question, their most distinguishable trait is the long ray extending from the dorsal fin. Their mouths are also quite notable, as they contain rows of sharp and fine teeth. 

To ensure that these physical characteristics are maintained and passed on, Tarpon will spawn in secluded and warm areas. A female can release anywhere from one million to twelve million eggs at once during this broadcast spawning process.

The females won’t offer protection or care for the eggs afterward, so it’s up to nature to decide whether or not they hatch into fully-grown Tarpon. As such, those with strong protective traits tend to be favored by natural selection – making sure that the physical characteristics of these impressive creatures remain consistent for years to come.

Tarpon are incredibly interesting creatures, especially when it comes to their habits and behavior. One trait that is particularly fascinating is their ability to inhabit a wide variety of habitats. They are primarily saltwater fish, but they can also be found in freshwater environments – particularly the Indo-Pacific species.

Bays, coastal regions, open ocean, estuaries and lagoons are just some of the places they can be spotted in. The salinity of their spawning grounds is also very important; since tarpon need stable salinity levels to remain healthy, they often spawn offshore where the tide won’t change the salinity much.

In terms of behavior, tarpon often congregates in large schools or shoals during certain times of the year or specific locations when food sources are abundant. They use a process called ram ventilation in which they swim with their mouths open to draw oxygen from the water column into their gills – an adaptation that sets them apart from other bony fishes which rely solely on the water passing over their gills for respiration.

Tarpon possesses impressive vision too, what’s more, these fish have learned how to detect light even at depths greater than 100 meters! All in all, tarpon shows some remarkable abilities and behaviors that make them unique among other species of fish.

Tarpon have a varied diet that changes according to their stage of growth and development. As larvae, tarpon absorbs nutrients directly from the surrounding seawater. As they grow, tarpon feed on small fish like sardines and anchovies, as well as crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. On occasion, tarpon has been known to scavenge for dead fish too.

The feeding habits of the tarpon vary greatly depending on its age and size. For instance, juvenile tarpon usually hunts in schools and feeds on small fishes like mullet, herring, and menhaden. They sometimes feed alone or in pairs at night, when they can ambush prey more easily in the darkness.

Adult tarpon is typically solitary hunters that consume larger prey than juveniles; they mostly feed on large crustaceans such as blue crabs or squid. While they’re not particularly picky eaters, they prefer to snack on live prey rather than scavenge for dead fish or carrion.

Fishing Gear and Techniques for Tarpon

When it comes to choosing the right gear for targeting tarpon, a medium-heavy action rod paired with a 5000 series spinning reel or higher is ideal. The power of this outfit allows anglers to cast out long distances and pull in large fish with ease.

Spooling your reel with a 20-pound braided line and a 30-pound monofilament leader will ensure that you have the necessary strength to handle even the largest tarpon. This setup also offers superior casting accuracy and sensitivity, which is key when targeting these hard-fighting fish.

When considering what size spinning reel is best suited for tarpon fishing, the 5000 to 7000 size range is an excellent choice. Thanks to its versatility, you can target both small and large tarpon without having to switch out reels.

It’s also important to note that a medium-heavy rod paired with this sized spinning reel gives anglers plenty of control when playing with larger fish. You can easily maneuver the rod tip while still having the necessary power for setting hooks and turning those big heads away from the structure. All in all, this setup offers anglers everything they need when it comes to tackling tarpon.

Poling for tarpon can be an adrenaline-filled rush as you watch these majestic creatures swim at the surface and jump high into the air. To increase your chances of success, it’s important to understand some key elements of this style of fishing.

First, it is essential to locate the deeper water where tarpon tends to congregate when searching for prey. Ideally, you’ll want to look for areas with depths ranging from 4 to 10 feet, and seeking out structures such as jetties, channels and other points of interest can often help you pinpoint a good spot.

Once you’ve selected a location and have your bait ready, it’s time to get your poling game on point! Though it may take some practice, proper technique will enable you to move along in just the right pattern and speed so that the fish feel comfortable coming alongside.

Keeping your line tight is also critical; not only does this ensure that when a strike occurs you’ll be able to capitalize on it quickly, but if a tarpon notices any loose slack in your line they typically spook before you have a chance to set the hook. If executed correctly, poling can be an incredibly fun and rewarding way to catch tarpon!

Finding Yellowtail Tarpon in Key West

When it comes to tarpon fishing in Key West, the most popular spots are definitely Marquesas Keys and Key West Harbor. The former is the epicenter of the fishery, with plenty of giant tarpon around the bridges that can be targeted with both live bait and conventional tackle.

There are also many shallower “lakes” where fly fishermen can go sight-fishing to catch big fish. Mangrove islands here hold a lot of baby tarpon, making them ideal for anglers who don’t want to target larger games. 

Bahia Honda Bridge holds a special mention here, as it is one of the most productive spots for finding tarpon in Key West. This is especially true during the summer months when schools of 20 pounders can be seen schooling around the bridge and its pilings. They tend to feed on shrimp, crabs, or baitfish just like regular tarpon do, and you can easily

May through July is usually the best time to focus on these bridges for tarpon, however, there are exceptions. For instance, if you’re looking for resident fish or just an extra challenge, Key West Harbor has been known to have feeding Tarpon from January through March every year. This makes it one of the best locations for catching big numbers of tarpon – perfect for those anglers looking for a real challenge!

Additionally, Marquesas Keys are also great spots due to their sheer number of giant tarpon, which makes them an excellent choice for anyone looking for an unforgettable fishing experience!

Tides and currents are incredibly important factors to consider when planning a successful tarpon fishing trip in Key West. It is essential to take into account the types of waters that tarpon prefers, as well as the times when they are most active. The two most important things to consider when it comes to tides and currents for tarpon fishing in Key West are high tide and moving water. 

High tide is one of the best times to fish for tarpon in Key West because it causes an increase in the activity of various marine organisms, such as crustaceans and baitfish which are primary food sources for saltwater game fish.

During high tide, predators like tarpon have more prey items available to them which makes them easier to catch. In addition, moving water also assists with tarpon fishing as it flips on the feeding switch in virtually all game fish.

The current helps move large amounts of prey items towards predators like tarpon, making them easier to spot and catch. Therefore, having knowledge about tides and currents is essential for any angler looking for success on their next Tarpon fishing trip in Key West.

Tarpon Regulations and Conservation in Key West

Tarpon fishing in Key West is a popular pastime for both residents and visitors alike, and with the proper regulations and conservation efforts, tarpon populations remain healthy. Regulations regarding size limits and catch-and-release fishing are strictly enforced to ensure the health of the species.

Fishing with hook and line only is allowed while snagging, snatch hooking, spearing, or using multiple hooks with live or dead bait is prohibited. All tarpon over 40 inches in length must remain in the water when fishing unless a state or world record title is being pursued using a tarpon tag. One tarpon tag per person can be purchased each year when attempting to break records. When transporting or shipping one fish only is permitted. 

In addition to regulations, conservation efforts are essential in protecting the species from overfishing and other threats like habitat loss and pollution. Since tarpon has high recreational value, they are highly sought after by anglers making them vulnerable to unsustainable harvest practices without proper management.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission works closely with local anglers and charter boat captains to promote responsible fishing habits that keep these majestic creatures safe for generations to come.


Key West offers an incredible opportunity for anglers looking to catch tarpon. With its fantastic location, fishing regulations, and conservation efforts in place, Key West is a great destination for anyone looking for an action-packed and safe experience. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, the waters of Key West offer something for everyone! So get out there, and see what you can reel in!