May 26, 2024

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How to Fish Tarpon in Islamorada, The Complete Guide

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Tarpon fishing in Islamorada is a real thrill-seeking journey. If you’re looking for the fight of a lifetime and a story that you can tell everyone, head to Islamorada. Here, you can hook into a big, feisty Tarpon. Or at least try to! These fish are highly sought after, as anglers, new and old, come from all around the world looking for the chance to hook into one of these big girls. And Islamorada happens to be a hotspot for them.

In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about Tarpon fishing in Islamorada. I’ll walk you through the best times to visit, how to maximize your chances, and the local regulations. So let’s get started.

When is the best time to catch Tarpon in Islamorada?

Tarpon are in the Islamorada area year-round, and there’s a chance of hooking into one any time of the year. That being said, these fish are most prevalent during the spring and summer months. During this time, the water temperatures increase and become more suitable for Tarpon. And this is when they migrate along the coast and come more inshore.

A man in a light-blue baseball cap and shirt leaning over the side of a boat, holding a Tarpon next to the shallow waters of the Florida Keys
Photo courtesy of Capt. Trentin Leary

Despite this, even during the colder months with fog, cloud, or rain, you can still find Tarpon but in smaller numbers. And there’s a good chance they may not be hungry. Yet, as the Florida Keys don’t really have a true winter and it’s often warm during fall and winter, it’s a great habitat for Tarpon to hang around throughout the year.

Another factor to consider when it comes to Tarpon fishing in Islamorada is the tide. While you may have success hooking up to some at varying tides, the best opportunities will arise when fishing a newly outgoing tide. Once the tide has reached its maximum and the water has come inshore, Tarpon make their way towards the shallower regions looking for sources of food. Once the high tide switches over to low tide, there’ll be a current pushing through towards the open waters. Tarpon may hang around looking for a tasty treat.

In addition to the tide, moon phases may also impact the feeding habits of Tarpon. Sometimes, you may pull up to your “honey hole” where you know many Tarpon reside, and you’re met with no bites! Meanwhile, on other days, you can hook up to one as soon as your bait hits the water. A reason for this could be because of the moon.

As mentioned earlier, Tarpon enjoy when the “bait comes to them,” referring to the ripping currents that push bait out. Therefore, planning a fishing trip around the new and full moon phases may bring some luck. This is because these phases create extra strong tides with the largest depth variation called “hill tides” in a moon cycle. During these tides, when bait is being pushed out, pass crabs may also be found floating through the waters. These are prime bait for Tarpon, therefore the fish will be on the prowl in search of these little critters.

A bearded man and a woman, stood on a fishing charter at sunset, holding a Tarpon caught while fishing out of Islamorada, FL
Photo courtesy of 6th Generation Charters

One more thing to consider when it comes to Tarpon fishing in Islamorada is the time of day. A lot of anglers recommend fishing early in the morning or late in the evening, when the sun is just poking out and it isn’t too hot or bright out. You may find these times produce a lot of visual fun, as you can often see the fish rolling through the water or sometimes even flying into the air at fast speeds to try and catch some bait on the water tops.

Sometimes, nighttime fishing can produce some great Tarpon action, although it can be hard to see your surroundings at times. Overall, you can come out lucky anytime of the day when Tarpon fishing in Islamorada, but these are some key opportunities.

Where is the best Tarpon fishing in Islamorada?

There are many spots with a large quantity of Tarpon in Islamorada. Passes, channels, and bridges are all very productive. But you may also find them strolling along flats, beaches, sandbars, deeper wrecks, marinas and docks. A popular location in the Keys is the 7 Mile Bridge, as it’s a long continuous stretch of structure that Tarpon love to hang around.

An aerial view of the 7 Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys on a clear day, with turquoise waters visible all around it

For the most part, Tarpon are just about anywhere in Islamorada. As mentioned in the previous section, the tide and season can play a difference in their location, but in the summer months, you may have more luck finding them closer inshore. If it’s high tide, look around the more inshore points and along passes and shallower areas. If it’s low tide, they may be a bit further out in deeper waters.

The way I usually see it, if you’re on the water (or even if fishing on land), and you see one roll, throw out a bait and see if you can hook into one. You never know if that single Tarpon may have a few friends hanging around underwater. After all, they often swim in groups.

Tarpon Fishing Regulations

Tarpon are heavily protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) and, therefore, some strict regulations are in place. You may never harvest any Tarpon no matter their size, as they don’t have any type of open season. That means they’re catch-and-release only. There is one exception, however. If you are in pursuit of a state or world record, you may apply to purchase a Tarpon tag that will allow you to keep only one fish for the whole year.

An infographic featuring the state flag of Florida along with text that says "Islamorada Tarpon Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a dark blue background.

In addition to those regulations, Tarpon over 40 inches must always remain in the water and are not to be lifted onto any vessels. Make sure to keep them in the water when removing any hooks or taking any photos. A good idea that many anglers have is to hop in the water with their trophy catch for a cool photo, although be careful of any lingering Sharks!

The FWC encourages anglers to keep the Tarpon fishery strong and healthy by working at all times to keep their safety first. For smaller fish that you can lift out of the water, make sure to do this as quickly as possible and to support them horizontally. Use a simple hook and gear that allows for safe handling when bringing in the fish and a quick and easy dehooking. For all sizes, be sure you allow for a good release, ensuring water is brought back through the gills and the fish is revived well enough to be sent back to their home.

A view from above of a male and female leaning over the side of a boat, holding a Tarpon horizontally in the water in the Florida Keys

The FWC also suggests, if you’re in a Shark-infested area, to move and fish somewhere else. If Sharks are everywhere, there’s a great possibility that, once you hook into a Tarpon and your fish flies through the water and splashes, it could draw the attention of nearby predators. And, after being on the line, the Tarpon’s chances of getting away diminish due to exhaustion from the fight.

There’s one more thing to not. As you’ll be participating in saltwater fishing, anyone between the ages of 16 and 65 needs a saltwater fishing license. They’re fairly easy to purchase (online or in a variety of local stores) and are not too expensive either. Check out FishingBooker’s handy guide to see how to get yours. The exception to this is if you’re fishing with a licensed charter. These come with licenses included for all on board.

How to Successfully Hook Tarpon in Islamorada

I bet by reading all this you’re wondering, so how do I successfully go Tarpon fishing in Islamorada? Well, as mentioned, find the best time to get to the water after you’ve factored in moon phases, tides, weather, and times of the day. Once you find the perfect time for a trip, find the area you plan on fishing and then figure out your bait.

An angler fishing over the side of a fishing boat with a Tarpon on the end of his line, with the 7 Mile Bridge in the distance on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Ana Banana Fishing – Tarpon Trips

Most Tarpon prefer live bait, which you can find in many local bait shops. Or you can bring along a cast net and catch your own. In Islamorada, pass crabs are a huge hit, but you can also use pilchards, threadfin, mullet, shrimp, and some artificial lures to attract them. You can also try to use dead or cut bait, as sometimes they’ll eat that as well.

When using live or dead bait, allow your bait to drift in the current, especially if in a pass or channel. If fishing near deeper structures, you can sinkers to keep your bait down in the water. Also, if using artificial lures – or perhaps even fly lures if fly fishing – you may find the best luck on flats or along beaches.

Having the right gear is essential for Tarpon fishing. These feisty fish produce drag-screaming runs, tight lines, and high-flying jumps. While that’s exciting, it also increases the risk of line breakage or hook pulling. Especially in Islamorada, where you may be met with some big Tarpon, you want to use heavier setups.

A common setup may consist of a medium-heavy rod paired with a spinning reel in size between 5000 to 7000. Add a 50 lb test braid, at least a 60 lb fluorocarbon leader, and a circle hook ranging in size from 5/0 to 10/0. Conventional reels, bait casters, and fly-fishing setups are other options that you can consider. However, the above is a common setup that most anglers use for Tarpon fishing in Islamorada.

A man and a young boy leaning over the side of a boat, holding a Tarpon upright in the turquoise waters on a clear day
Photo courtesy of True Island Adventures

Tarpon have extra tough mouths that are like sandpaper and, therefore, can pose a threat to your fishing line. If the line is in a bad place, there’s a chance the mouth may rub against the line causing it to fray. This, in turn, may cause it to break. A higher-pound leader can reduce the risk of this happening.

In addition, it can also be difficult to secure your hook into its mouth. Make sure the hook is in the right spot in order to pierce the skin and hook into the fish. If not, as soon as the Tarpon opens its mouth, the hook will pull. This is true especially if there’s slack on the line. This is usually out of your control, though, and is based on luck. There may be times when you hook into a good one and aren’t able to bring it in – even after a lengthy fight. But don’t be discouraged. Just retie and throw another line out there!

Extra Tips for Tarpon Fishing

  • Be sure to bow. When Tarpon launch themselves into the air, you need to be sure to “bow.” Point your rod’s tip at the fish when they jump to reduce line tension and keep the hook from pulling.
  • Be patient. It can take a bit of effort to both hook a Tarpon and bring it in. Therefore, get ready to spend quite some time out there.
  • Most importantly, have fun. Tarpon fishing in Islamorada is like no other, in my opinion. It provides a true fishing experience that will have your heart racing and your passion for fishing grow even more. It’s definitely something you’ll want to do again and again, and again.

Tarpon Fishing Islamorada: Where Dreams Come True

A smiling man in sunglasses and a yellow shirt, holding a Tarpon aloft aboard a fishing boat in the Florida Keys' backcountry waters with a tree-lined shore behind him
Photo courtesy of Florida Backcountry Fishing

So there you have it. You’re now ready to land that personal best. Islamorada, and the entire Florida Keys, provide Tarpon fishing opportunities that most other places could only dream of. It’s time to make that dream a reality.

Have you ever been Tarpon fishing in Islamorada? How big was your catch? Any tips and tricks to share with your fellow anglers? Leave us a line in the comment section below!

The post How to Go Tarpon Fishing in Islamorada: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Caitlyn Gatrell
Title: How to Go Tarpon Fishing in Islamorada: The Complete Guide 
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Published Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2023 11:02:38 +0000

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