Tarpon, the silver king, is a bucket-list species, and one of only a handful of inshore game fish that prompts anglers from all around the globe to travel hundreds, or even thousands of miles, in hopes of testing their angling skills against such a formidable quarry. Here’s a list of a dozen premier tarpon fishing destination to do just that.
Miami’s Biscayne Bay, the southern half to be exact, is where hordes of tarpon begin their annual trek across South Florida’s oceanside flats every spring. As in the Keys, shallow-water anglers in Miami stake out at strategic points or pole along sand bars and outer flats edges to present baits, lures or flies at fish traveling by from April through early July. Meanwhile, resident tarpon are available in some channels, around creek and river mouths along the mainland, deep residential canals, and bridges over the ICW. Government Cut (aka Miami Harbor Entrance), the deep inlet where large ships come in and out, boasts a terrific winter and early spring live-bait fishery.
Located in the Upper Florida Keys and long heralded as the world’s tarpon capital, Islamorada yields superb tarpon action both oceanside and in the backcountry, especially from April through early July, when Florida’s annual migration pushes thousands of fish up and down its shores. Aside from countless sight-fishing opportunities for fly and light-tackle devotees on Atlantic Coast flats, Florida Bay and nearby Everglades National Park waters, Islamorada also offers excellent live-baiting at area bridges starting in March and lasting into early fall.
Key West, Florida
The southernmost Florida town is the gateway to the productive waters that surround the Lower Keys and the Marquesas. While tarpon patrol numerous area flats and sand bars, many stack up in the channels between islands and flats also, particularly during periods of slack water and low tide. Here silver kings are most abundant and widespread in spring and early summer, but the depths of the ship channel offer a terrific winter fishery, and in February and March, some large females sneak into several Gulf-side bights and basins, where they lay up during calm, sunny days, making ideal targets for stealthy fly and light-tackle anglers.
This small Central American nation boasts some 200 miles of coastline, much of which is laden with mangrove lagoons, grass flats, channels and deep holes that harbor tarpon year-round, as do several coastal rivers like the Belize and Sibun near the capital, Stann Creek near Dangriga, the Sittee just south of Hopkins, and the Monkey between Placencia and Punta Gorda. Aside from the resident tarpon population, an annual migration brings and additional influx of 30- to 100-pounders to area flats and shoals from April through September, boosting anglers chances.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Several coastal rivers and the myriad bays, coves and creeks of the Everglades National Park are home to a large resident population of tarpon — ranging from 3-pound babies to 100-pound adults — available all year. As is the case in other parts of Florida, the annual silver-king migration brings thousands more to the region from April through July, but some early arrivals show up in Whitewater and Ponce de Leon bays, as well as the mouths of rivers like Lostmans, Broad and Shark, which along with the beaches of Cape Sable remain reliable options for anglers casting large plugs or live-baiting with mullet or ladyfish until early fall.
Northern Yucatan, Mexico
From Campeche, west of Merida, to Holbox Island, northwest of Cancun, a vast system of brackish-water lagoons and connecting creeks harbors a large population of juvenile tarpon, mostly in the 5- to 20-pound class. Tarpon angling in the Northern Yucatan is mostly a fly and light-tackle fishery that calls for casting in tight quarters, but considerably larger specimens are available in open water, usually close to river mouths, where they often stop to forage as they migrate along the coast during late spring and summer.
Boca Grande, Florida
A tarpon mecca since the early 1900s, Boca Grande Pass, with its 60-foot depths, harbors a large concentration of silver kings from April through July, when fish start to thin out. The pass is primarily a live-bait fishery, but the adjacent Gulf beaches are prime areas to sight-fish — with either flies, lures or baits — for tarpon cruising over light sand bottom in packs and often large schools. East of the pass, Charlotte Harbor, and connecting Pine Island Sound, also play host to many tarpon that frequent deeper shorelines, channels and basins, which, in addition to the mouths of the Myakka, Peace and Caloosahatchee rivers, offer hot live-bait action for big fish (some exceeding 150 pounds) through mid fall.
Manzanillo, Costa Rica
Located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side, near the Panama border, the coastal waters along Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge are home to large numbers of tarpon, including many topping 100-pounds. The fishing here takes place in Gandoca Lagoon when the water is high enough to access it, and around the mouth of the Sixaola River to the south, where packs of silver kings are found rolling in 5 to 20 feet of water.
This sleepy town, located where Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle meet, offers Keys-style sight-fishing for tarpon that travel along various sand bars and shoals from May though early August. Angling pressure is lighter in this area than in other Florida tarpon destinations, but the fishing area, which encompasses Saint George Sound and Apalachicola Bay, is considerably smaller also, reason why visiting anglers should follow the same shallow-water-fishing rules of etiquette as in the Keys to ensure harmony with local guides and better fishing for everyone.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Jose and Torrecilla, a pair of brackish-water lagoons — connected by natural creeks and manmade canals — near San Juan airport are loaded with silver kings. Most tarpon in San Juan's lagoons fall in the 50- to 100-pound range, but trophy fish exceeding 150-pounds are not uncommon. Success here rests on pinpointing schooling bait or rolling fish and drifting live baits suspended under a float, or casting sinking plugs, soft plastic swim baits, or weighted flies ahead of the tarpon. Best periods to fish the lagoons are March through May, and October through December.
Rio Colorado, Costa Rica
January through May, the dry season in the region, is considered the peak time to fish Rio Colorado — on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast — and its neighboring lagoons, but good action can be encountered as late as early August. The fall, when seas are often calm in this part of the world, the fish move to the ocean, and the best bite takes place along the beaches, sometimes a couple of miles offshore. Jigs or swim baits, and weight flies and fly lines are essential for success with tarpon often suspended well below the surface.
Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina (aka JDR) is a vast expanse of shallow flats, channels and mangrove islands offering some 100 miles of fertile waters where tarpon from 8- to 80-pounds thrive. The pristine setting, abundance of forage, and the unusual aggressiveness of many of the area’s silver kings, especially the juveniles under 30 pounds, make for unforgettable fishing. Travel restrictions and the logistics, however, require more planning than the other tarpon destinations on this list.