Key West Tarpon Fishing

The best time to catch a tarpon is during the early spring months. These tarpon migrate their way down to Key West by the thousands. Most of our tarpon are caught on live bait or chunked pinfish. Though purely a catch and release, fish tarpon put on quite a show tailwalking and jumping out of the water.

Tarpon are hard-fighting fish that will give anglers of all skill levels a rewarding challenge. Key West tarpon fishing is a true bucket list item for any sport fisher because we have some of the largest fish in the world.

The biggest females can grow to over 200 lbs and 6 feet in length. Those monsters are rare but you can expect to regularly find tarpon weighing 100 lbs or more in Floridian waters.

Once hooked, tarpon will fight tooth and nail to avoid being hauled on board. They never seem to run out of energy and every time you think they’re ready to give up, they go on a blistering run away from the boat and make you earn back the lost line.

Tarpon are also famous for jumping out of the water and this is one of the ways that they have evaded anglers in the past, even after being hooked. Their size, hardy disposition and brilliant color have earned tarpon the name “Silver King”.

The best time for Key West tarpon fishing is the spring and early summer when their migration is in full swing. However, there are local tarpon which can be caught almost all year around.

Migrating Tarpon

Tarpon migrate to Key West every year before they head offshore to spawn in the summer. These “migrating tarpon” start to show up in February but their numbers really swell starting in April.

They number in the thousands during these spring months, making them the most sought after fish of that time of year. The fish do not migrate offshore until the end of July, so Key West tarpon fishing stays hot through most of the summer.

These tarpon migrate along the edges of the flats and channels in the Keys. The best method for catching the largest fish is to set up an ambush point along their migration route.

Most years, there are more tarpon found on the Atlantic side than the Gulf of Mexico side. Expect a fight; migrating tarpon weighing  often to 150 lbs and depending on the tackle will put your strength to the test.

Local Tarpon

Key West tarpon fishing doesn’t end when the migrating fish leave our waters. While the local fish don’t get quite as large as the hungry migrating tarpon, they are still very fun to catch.

Anglers can find some larger fish in the late winter before the next migration season starts. Smaller tarpon, sometimes called “baby tarpon”, populate the waters off Key West in the fall and early winter.

So, no matter what time of year you can make it to the Keys, you can find tarpon.

Tackle and Technique

Tarpon can be targeted a variety of ways. Most Captains use live bait. Things like mullet, pinfish and live crabs are staples of tarpon fishing. They also eat dead bait and can be targeted on articials.