Best Bait for Tarpon Fishing in South Florida

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the best bait to catch tarpon

Best Bait for Tarpon Fishing in South Florida

Best Bait for Tarpon Fishing in South Florida

Florida anglers begin to feel antsy by early April. They know what season is around the corner and it can’t come soon enough. The Tarpon migration is set to begin at the end of the month and anglers count down the days until show time. So, if it’s that time of year, and you’re wondering how to catch a tarpon, hopefully this helps!

While the Tarpon congregate in large groups of hundreds of fish, you need to throw the proper bait to be able to land them. A Tarpon fight is one that you will never forget. These fish give you everything they have for the entirety of the fight. 

Be prepped with sharp hooks and plenty of bait because once the fish start hitting, you’re in for an unbelievable day. Keep on reading if you’re wondering how to catch a tarpon in florida, we’ll help as much as we can.

Live Bait For Tarpon Fishing

If you’re wondering what bait you should use to catch tarpon, I say live bait! Live bait is always going to catch the most fish (IMO). Whether you’re targeting big tarpon or snook, natural bait or live bait is king. It’s natural action and appearance make it too tempting for the tarpon to not eat. 

Mullet

When the Mullet start to run in the spring and fall, the Tarpon follow. The Silver Kings are looking to feast on the massive amount of Mullet along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The tide is holding the Mullet in one place and the Tarpon can eat their fill. 

If anchored, hook the Mullet right through the mouth to create the most natural looking appearance. Drift them over the top of the Tarpon and be prepared for a strike. 

If you’re drifting, hook the mullet in the anal fin or right behind the dorsal. These techniques will keep them alive the longest. If you see a group of tarpon, cast your bait near them in an effort to not scare them away. 

You can also fish mullet as a dead bait. Let it sit on the bottom and wait for the tarpon to take it. Remember, sharp hooks are a must for Tarpon. Their tough and bony mouths can make them difficult to pin. 

Crabs

Crabs are another must for Tarpon fishing. These fish feast on these in the lower Florida Keys. These work extremely well in the morning and baitfish work best in the afternoon. Crabs are most commonly found from April to July and are best fished if they’re only the size of a Silver-dollar. 

Hook these right on their edge to ensure that they won’t die quickly. The more action they can provide, the better. 

If you’re drifting for tarpon, it’s smart to add a small float a few feet above the crab. This will keep it at the proper place in the water column. 

Although, If you’re in the flats or the backcountry, it’s not a bad idea to peel it and cut it up. You can use a ¼ oz. jighead to fish with these. 

Take along 30-40 crabs on your next Tarpon adventure. You can easily keep them fresh for a few days if you continue to feed them. They’re a bit more expensive than shrimp, but much easier to keep alive. 

Shrimp 

Shrimp are simple to fish with and easily accessible, plus, tarpon seem to love them. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t want the shrimp to spin in the current. If it is, the Tarpon will immediately suspect something is wrong.  

To keep shrimp from spinning, hook them by the head or the tail on a jig. This adds more weight and prevents it from spinning in the current. These are a great bait to throw if you’re not sure what is going to work. 

A great way to fish these is to free line them down currents to areas that hold tarpon. If the water is clean enough, you’ll be able to tell where a group of Tarpon is stacked. If you can manage to naturally present the bait, you’ll have success in landing fish.  

Pinfish 

Pinfish are always smart to bring when targeting tarpon. They’re extremely hardy and do well fighting the current. You don’t want your bait to get swept away in the current and not look natural. Tarpon are smart enough to not take it. 

You can either free line or dead bait these fish. Either method is going to work, but be willing to try a few before you fully commit. 

Artificial Bait 

Artificial lures have also earned their keep when it comes to fishing for tarpon. There are few things more satisfying than watching a tarpon explode in pursuit of a topwater bait, but don’t forget that diving baits and flies also are worth using. 

Zara Spook 

Topwater chuggers and sliders are always going to catch fish. These are going to work best if you use the “walk-the-dog” method. As you’re walking the dog across the surface, don’t be afraid to let it pause for a half second every once in a while. There isn’t one retrieve method that is always going to work so switch it up until you start landing fish. 

Tarpon will often hit on the pause and will fly out of the water to attack your bait. If you see Tarpon surfacing, it’s smart to tie on top water lures. 

Soft Plastics 

Any sort of bait fish, eel or sea worm artificial will land fish. While there are a few different ways to fish with artificial lures, perhaps the best way to do it is low and slow. Tie these on jigs so they can reach the bottom. Once there, let the current do the rest.  

If you cast across the current and let it free line, they will look natural as they descend in the water column. The tarpon will often hit on the fall so don’t lose track of your rod. You can almost fish these like you would live bait, but don’t be as aggressive with your retrieve. 

Flies 

Fly fishing for Tarpon is an entirely different method, but it’s always going to be successful as well as entertaining. It’s best to use your fly gear in the flats where the water isn’t deep and sight fishing is possible. 

You want to match your streamer to the color of the bottom. If you see the Tarpon feeding on mullet or other bait fish, use the Cockroach, Apte Too and the Black Dead patterns. Also, the Tarpon Shrimp and Tarpon Toad have been known to land Tarpon. 

You want to target these fish in open water on the fly because they’ll do their best to tangle you around any structure available. Cast near the fish and strip it back in slow, quick movements. 

Tarpon Tackle 

While there are a variety of sizes of tarpon, it’s always best to be prepared with heavier equipment in case the size of one surprises you. 

Spin Fishing Reels 

If you’re fishing for tarpon in open water, you can use a 7’ rod with 225 yards of 12-15 lb mono or braided line. Also, be sure to have a shock leader around six feet long and 50-80 pound test. This leader will prevent line snaps! 

If you’re fishing for tarpon around structure, use an 8 foot rod with 150 yards of 30-40 pound braid. This will allow you to fight the fish off of the structure without worrying about snapping any line. Also, remember to use the shock leader. Their sharp teeth can cut almost anything. 

Surf fishing for tarpon requireds a 9-foot rod with 300 yards or 50 pound braid. These fish can run you for a long time. Shock leader is also a must! 

For fly fishing, you’ll want your 10-14-weight rod and a large arbor reel. Tie on 300 yards or so of backing along with a sinking fly line. Your leader should be 100 yards of 25 pound shock absorber. 

Technique For Tarpon Fishing In Florida

Now, remember that Tarpon are arguably one of the most difficult fish to land. The reason is that they are one of the strongest fish, as well as acrobatic fish. 

Once you’ve hooked up to a tarpon, make sure to hook the fish. We’ve actually seen angler work to set the hook two-to-three times to ensure that the tarpon won’t just spit the hook on the first jump. 

Once you’re confident that the hook is set, go ahead and set it one more time. As the fish is running, or diving as many of the times they do, you’ll want to make sure that your drag is set properly. Too many times we’ve seen massive tarpon spool a reel. 

As you’re seeing your rod tip bend, make sure to keep an eye on the depth of your tarpon. Once you start to see the fish coming to the surface, be prepared for a leep out of the water. Make sure to “bow to the king” to ensure that the fish doesn’t shake your hook out during a jump. 

That’s it! Sounds easy right? Think again! 

Good luck out there and make sure to comment with any of your tips & tricks for landing this amazing fish. 

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