Tarpon

Silver Kings are Here in Sarasota!

You don't have to go to Boca Grande for awesome Tarpon fishing — these majestic sport fish can be found right along our shoreline. 

There are many species of sport fish that anglers pursue along our coast, but there’s one that causes anglers to go just a little crazy (figuratively, that is) during summer months. These fish make their annual migration from the Chesapeake Bay through the Gulf of Mexico, culminating in a gathering of thousands of fish in Boca Grande Pass before heading offshore to spawn then moving to the Caribbean and places beyond. Sarasota-area anglers enjoy access to these powerful fish during the peak months of May, June and July. . .

If you haven’t yet guessed, I’m talking about Tarpon, Megalops Atlanticus, most notably called “Silver Kings.” 

Tarpon have been around since prehistoric times. They can grow to 8 feet and weigh almost 300 pounds, and their trademark silver scales are a sight to behold, especially when struck by the sun. With their significant strength and stamina, they provide quite a challenge to anglers lucky enough to hook them, and their favorite technique to throw a hook is to leap completely out of the water and thrash on the surface — a breathtaking sight. When it happens, anglers “bow to the King” by offering some slack so the fish doesn’t snap that precious line.

Many believe that the best Tarpon fishing is in Boca Grande Pass. While certainly an amazing place to fish, these fish can also be found in the Sarasota area, close to shore, making them accessible to anglers in any boat, kayak or canoe. This is a sport that simply requires an earnest desire to catch a fish, a keen eye, strong arms, a sturdy rod, feisty bait, and LOTS of patience. It’s catch-and-release fishing at its best, filled with opportunities to both praise and curse this feisty fish. Anglers usually rise at the crack of dawn to be out on the water before sunrise and stake out a spot ahead of the fish. When it’s quiet, you can hear them moving, and when the sun hits the tips of their dorsal fins as they roll at the surface, your adrenaline kicks in and things start to get very exciting. But seeing fish is one thing; getting one to take your bait is a whole other story!

Our area has a long history of Tarpon fishing that was highlighted in 1929, when Powell Crosley Jr., industrialist and radio magnate, visited Sarasota at the invitation of Robert Ringling, and hooked his first fish. He then broadcast the first Sarasota Tarpon Tournament in 1930, putting us on the map for sport fishing. The tournament is still a big part of our community, celebrating its 87th year in 2017, making it the longest running Tarpon tournament in the world.

A massive tarpon catch from Sarasota Bays
A massive tarpon catch from Sarasota's Bays

The fishery is managed by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) which establishes catch-and-release rules for Tarpon, among other species. Those who fish know the importance of respecting the rules, especially those focused on proper handling and release techniques, in order to ensure longevity of this historic species.

There’s a lot we know about Tarpon, but still a lot we don’t. That’s why scientists and conservation professionals at FWC and Mote Marine Laboratory partner on efforts to learn more. For many years, the two organizations have gathered data about migratory patterns, release methods and statistics (girth, length, weight, etc.), using DNA information collected by fishermen. And currently Mote is conducting a study of juvenile Tarpon in Charlotte Harbor, fitting them with acoustic tags to track them up to 10 years. The data is transmitted to Mote and others involved in the study, including FWC, who pick up signals from tags. In this study, scientists are reviewing lifespans, when juveniles join adult populations, percentages of fish that remain in the Charlotte Harbor area, and mortality rates. To learn more, check out this Mote news, and stay tuned for more in early June. (Note: if you’re an angler interested in helping with the study to catch, tag and release Tarpon, contact Dr. James Locascio at [email protected].)

Finally, if you’d like to catch a Tarpon, there are plenty of professional guides who can help. Here are just a few places to get started: CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, New Pass Grill and Bait Shop and Stump Pass Marina.

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Nicole Coudal is a home chef and food writer based in southwest Florida, where she fishes and cooks using local ingredients. When not on the water, she visits farms, farmer’s markets, and other food-related venues to highlight what’s in-season and to create tasty recipes. Read more at www.MyDeliciousBlog.com.

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