Tarpon can be found throughout Florida's waterways. Talk to any guide or angler who has spent time in the Keys, and they will surely have stories to tell about the Silver King - epic battles won, or more often lost, with this powerful and acrobatic quarry. Growing to well over 300lbs, these magnificent fish would have a hard time going unnoticed.
Long ago, Florida tarpon were caught for food and over-harvested to the brink of extermination. The commercial fishery eventually closed down and became recreational only. With the first tarpon caught on rod and reel in 1895, soon many people from around the world came to Florida to encounter the stunning beauty of the Silver Kings. Fishing gear back then was not as advanced as it is these days, and it was certainly no small task to land some of the monsters that were swimming about. By the 1950s some anglers had claimed to be able to land 100lb tarpon on fly tackle for the first time in history. The sport soon took off and tarpon are now one of the most sought after and iconic species of fish an angler can catch on fly gear. With modern tackle and innovations to rods, reels and line, anglers started to catch some absolutely huge fish on fly rods. Now anglers are able to battle the larger fish and records have been set with Tarpon over 200lbs on fly.
Thomas & Thomas Pro Staffer Captain Dale Perez has been fishing for tarpon in Florida for over 50 years, having guided anglers to over 8000 fly-caught tarpon. He recommends a Thomas & Thomas Exocett 9’ 11wt or the new Sextant 9’ 11wt, paired with a Nautilus Silverking or Nautilus Monster reel. He has landed some true monsters and has helped countless others in their quest to land a Silver King. Dale’s largest Tarpon weighed in at 186 lbs 8zs, and he has witnessed tippet-class records being set on fly gear throughout his career.
Due to high fishing pressure and other environmental reasons, it is believed that the Florida Tarpon fishery may be at risk. Capt. Dale remarks that the fishery seems to be successfully managed despite noting a year over year decline in numbers. He says a decline has been noticeably worsening in the last 10 years. “The water quality is definitely discouraging.” said Dale, and in light of recent events on the coast of florida many tarpon anglers can relate. It is important for us to consider the recommendations fisheries scientists are providing, and take steps to protect our coastal waterways. Currently parts of Florida are suffering from toxic algae blooms that are causing fish kills. This negative effect at an ecosystem level of destruction is dangerous and puts our fisheries at risk of collapse. Working with government organizations and nonprofits such as the Bonefish Tarpon Trust to help protect our coastal waterways will strengthen coastal communities and make the ecosystem more resilient. A healthy ecosystem means a healthy fishery and plenty of Tarpon in the sea for recreational anglers to enjoy for generations.