Last Updated on May 30, 2023 by Eric Bonneman
There’s a thrill that electrifies the atmosphere when you hook into an Atlantic tarpon in the coastal waters of North Florida. These are no ordinary fish—they’re silver leviathans, capable of aerial acrobatics that can leave fishermen breathless with both exertion and awe.
It’s a seasonal spectacle around these parts, especially from June through September, a window of opportunity that draws pros and novices alike to the local inlets and nearshore waters of The First Coast.
The tarpon, also known as the “Silver King,” is a majestic creature, robust and shimmering, sometimes reaching lengths of over 8 feet and tipping the scales at over 200 pounds. Its size is second only to its fighting spirit.
A tarpon won’t yield without a show; it’s one of the most spectacular fighting fish you can set your line against.
The Silver King Comes to The Ancient City
Local Tarpon Fishing Bait and Tackle Tips
St. Augustine, with its ample coastline, is known for its tarpon-rich waters. In this fisherman’s paradise, it’s a fairly well-known fact that the Matanzas Inlet and the Tolomato River are frequented by the tarpon.
Outside the St. Augustine Inlet and the Crescent Beach Inlet, you may find these colossal game fish hunting in pods, ready to test your mettle. The nearshore waters along the beaches like Vilano and Anastasia State Park also provide fertile ground for tarpon, especially during the balmy summer months.
There’s an art to tarpon fishing on the First Coast that requires knowledge, patience, and the right gear. Standard fare for a tarpon fishing setup involves a sturdy spinning reel, a 7 to 8-foot heavy action rod, and braided line to withstand the sudden runs and powerful jumps of these titanic fish.
Choosing the Correct Bait for Tarpon Fishing
When it comes to what bait to use for tarpon, nothing attracts them like a well-chosen, wriggling temptation. Live bait is typically the standard, with pinfish, mullet, and crabs being the most popular choices. Position your boat upcurrent and drift your bait into the feeding tarpon for optimal results.
Remember, tarpon have a keen sense of smell, and the fresher your bait, the better your chances. So when you stop by a local St. Augustine bait shop, go for live bait rather than frozen if you can.
Can You Catch Tarpon with Lures?
While tarpon love to go after fresh bait, don’t dismiss artificial fishing lures entirely. There are certain times, given the right conditions and a keen understanding of tarpon behavior, when lures can indeed outperform their live counterparts.
Large plugs, spoons, and soft plastic swimbaits can provoke that aggressive bite—especially when retrieved with a slow, twitching motion that mimics injured prey.
Can You Actually Fly Fish for Tarpon?
Yes! For those looking for a real challenge, consider fly fishing for tarpon. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but landing a tarpon on a fly rod is an accomplishment that stands out on any fisherman’s resume. Here are some tips:
- Try patterns that imitate baitfish or shrimp, and be prepared for a lengthy, muscle-burning fight.
- Saltwater fly fishing demands a heavy-duty rod and reel—we’re talking 10 to 12 weight setups—and a strong, preferably tapered, leader to withstand the tarpon’s abrasive mouth.
Whether you’re using live bait, an artificial lure, or even a hand-tied fly, setting the hook is crucial. Unlike other species, a tarpon’s mouth is hard and bony. You need to drive the hook in with authority, often more than once, to ensure a secure connection.
Once hooked, be ready for the ride of your life. A tarpon will leap, twist, and dive in its bid for freedom, making for an unforgettable contest between angler and fish.
As you venture into the waters of The First Coast, respect for the environment and the fish is paramount. Tarpon are catch-and-release only in Florida, so handle your catch with care. You can’t take home any tarpon you catch without a special harvesting license. So remember to use circle hooks for live bait to reduce deep hooking and ensure safe release.
The Bottom Line
Tarpon fishing is an incredible experience, a blend of skill, thrill, and reverence for the powerful Silver King. From the salt-laden breeze at the St. Augustine Inlet to the tranquil waters of the Matanzas Inlet, these shores invite you to engage in a contest like no other
Remember, it’s not just about landing the tarpon; it’s about the stories that weave themselves around every battle, stories that live on long after the fish have swum away. As we say here in St. Augustine: come for the fish, stay for the tale.