What Are Tarpon?
Tarpons are large and strong fish found in warm coastal waters like the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They have shiny, silver scales and can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 200 pounds. Tarpons have a streamlined body, a big mouth, and a jaw that sticks out. What’s interesting is that they have a special swim bladder that lets them take gulps of air at the water’s surface. This helps them survive in places with low oxygen.
Tarpons are highly sought after by fishing enthusiasts because they provide an exhilarating challenge. When you hook a tarpon, get ready for an exciting battle! These fish are known for their incredible strength and agility. As soon as they feel the hook, they often leap out of the water, putting on an impressive acrobatic display. Tarpons flip and twist in the air, making the fishing experience even more thrilling. Their energetic behavior and powerful resistance make them a favorite target for anglers seeking an exciting and memorable fishing encounter.
Tarpon Enthusiasts worldwide should have a trip to Boca Grande as one of the top things on their bucket list. This is because nowhere else in the world will you find tens of thousands of Tarpon “Silver Kings” in one place, and it has been estimated that over 5,000 of them are reeled in during the peak season every year.
This is why it is called “The Tarpon Capital of the World”. Tarpon can be found in the Pass and the surrounding areas almost year-round, but the season is April to September. In fact, it has been said that year after year, there is not any location in Florida, including Key West, and maybe the world that holds as many Tarpon as Boca Grande Pass.
During the peak season of May to July, the numbers of these magnificent fish rolling in the waters is staggering. But of course, numbers in the thousands bring boats in the hundreds, making the waters very crowded.
So what are Tarpon? Why are they so desirable? Why are they here in such numbers? And why does that make the area “The Tarpon Capital of the World?”
Tarpon, or nicknamed the “Silver Kings,” are one of the most sought-after gamefish in the world. They have enormous mouths which they use to gulp prey down whole. Their body is strong and powerful. Their skin is striking with brilliant silver covering most of their body, thus their nickname and black or green color on the top of their bodies.
They also use that big mouth to gulp air when they come to the surface. They are one of the only fish that can do this. This is very important when they are in oxygen-deprived waters and make fighting them that much harder because they also gain their strength as they gulp air.
They are found all over the world in tropical and sub-tropical waters. While the Tarpon in Boca Grande Pass are not the biggest in the world, some of the biggest are found in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, they are still pretty big, fun to catch, and there is nowhere with as many.
Tarpon are big fish, usually at least 100 – 150 pounds, with the largest “Silver King” ever caught being a fish over 300 pounds that was recently caught in Columbia.
They are incredibly powerful fish, and they use this power to rip your line out and display explosive, incredible acrobatic leaps out of the water. Pound for pound, they are second to only the Blue Marlin in speed, endurance, extreme jumping ability, excitement, and fun to bring to the boat.
Tarpon have a voracious appetite. If you get your bait close to them, they will swallow your bait. Once this happens, you need to act fast. You need to reel in at a 45-degree angle to set the hook into the bone of the mouth. This is not as easy as it sounds.
Then the fight begins. It may take a short time if your Tarpon is small, but if large or extra-large, prepare for a long battle. The Tarpon will run and perform spectacular jumps from the water. They leap, throwing their head back and forth to try to dislodge the hook. Unfortunately for us, but lucky for them is this shaking works a lot of the time. Tarpons are exciting fish and one of the most prized game fish in the world.
Why is it called the “Tarpon Capital of the World?” Every year in the spring, Tarpon migrate north to Boca Grande Pass, Charlotte Harbor and surrounding areas. They are found all up and down the coast of Florida from the Florida Keys in the south to the Panhandle up north. However, nowhere do the Tarpon congregate more than in the proximity of Boca Grande, Florida. They come to the Florida waters, especially to Boca Grande, to spawn off the coast of Florida.
When they arrive, they are large, about 80 – 100 pounds. However, once they get here, all they want to do is eat and eat so that they will have the energy to reach the spawning grounds. Luckily for them, as they are migrating north, vast schools of Thread-Fin Herring are migrating south to warmer waters.
This brings a huge food source for the tens of thousands of Tarpon that flock to the Pass and Harbor. This fattens them up to at least 100 – 200 pounds.
Another food source for them is blue crab. They love blue crab, and this food supply is abundant, especially during the “Hill” tides. For four days in the afternoon, two before the full moon and two before the new moon, a phenomenon occurs called the “Hill” tides.
During these afternoons, outgoing waves bring thousands of crabs into the Pass, and it brings with it a feeding frenzy. These “Hill” tides occur for three months; May, June, and July and are one of the main reasons these months are the peak season for Tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass.
Thousands of Tapon come to feast, and hundreds of boats come to catch them as they feed. It is almost effortless to get hooked up during “Hill” tides by just casting a hooked crab into the mix and wait for your bait to get gulped up. Some anglers and boats are getting double and triple hookups during these afternoons.
Because of the numbers of Tarpon and fishermen from all over the globe, there are many prominent fishing tournaments in the area. “The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament” draws anglers from all over to compete for over $100,000.00 in prizes. This tournament is two days, and each day the winning boat is awarded almost $50,000.00. There is also a tournament just for women, The Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament. Here 35-40 boats compete for over a $60,000.00 purse. There are other tournaments as well throughout the season.
At the start, in April and the peak season in May – July is when most of the anglers and guides invade the Pass and Charlotte Harbor. Many of the guides during the peak seasons are not locals. Many out-of-town and out-of-state charter boats come to the Pass and take people out and make a quick buck during this time.
You should really research your choices carefully before coming to the Pass during the peak season. We recommend one of our vetted fishing captains who are local, know where the fish will be at any time in the year, will take you to the fish and that sometimes means away from the crowded Pass.
The months after their departure are still really good, with plenty of Tarpon still inhabiting and feeding in these waters. The beauty of this is that only the local fishing guides are still here during that time and that during the months of August to October, you can still catch massive fish.
All of these factors are why Boca Grande Pass is not only the “Tarpon Capital of the World,” it is where anglers from around the world come to make memories they can tell their buddies and their children for the rest of their lifetime.