Adult tarpon average five to six feet in length and can weigh anywhere from 80 to 150 pounds, although some very large females gain lengths of eight feet and can weight up to 300 pounds.
Large, herring-like fish, tarpon have a bluish or greenish back, distinctive lateral lines and shiny, silvery scales that have earned them the moniker, “Silver King.” They have large eyes with fatty eyelids and a broad mouth with a prominent lower jaw that serves them well when feeding. Adults are predacious and dine on whole fish and crustaceans.
One of the unique features of the tarpon is its swim bladder, an internal gas-filled organ that they use primarily to breathe with. This bladder acts as a stabilizing agent for the fish to control its buoyancy. This characteristic allows the tarpon to stay at the current water depth without wasting energy in swimming. A common – and exhilarating – sight when tarpon fishing is schools of fish gracefully rolling along the surface of the water.
Because they have no commercial food value, very little has been documented about the geographical distribution and migration of tarpon.
We know they inhabit both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. They prefer water temperatures of 72 to 82 degrees. In the Western Atlantic, they primarily live in the warmer coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, Cuba and the West Indies, although they’ve been caught by anglers in areas ranging from as far north as Nova Scotia and south to Argentina.
Tarpon spend their early years offshore, and their activity is a bit of a mystery. They reach sexual maturity at about six to seven years, and this is when they join the mature schools.
Tarpon of the Middle Florida Keys
During the spring, mature tarpon migrate from the south to the Florida Keys to spawn. They congregate by the thousands inshore at bridges, pilings and the like, offering anglers an unparalleled fishing opportunity.
These large migrating tarpon are prevalent in Middle Florida Keys waters from April through June, with the fishing at its peak in May.
The tarpon we get in the Middle Florida Keys are thought to be 15 to 30 years old. We have lots of tarpon measuring from five to six feet and weighing 80 to 150 pounds, with some 200-pound monsters making an occasional appearance. The Florida state record for tarpon caught with conventional tackle is 243 pounds, caught by Gus Bell in Key West in 1975 on just 20-pound test line.