South Florida still remains one of the world's top tarpon destinations
reasons. Reliable sight fishing to some of the world's largest tarpon
is the primary attraction, though its in-country location certainly
doesn't detract from the allure. Proximity does have its drawbacks
though. Increased fishing pressure combined with an almost non-existent
boating etiquette (from the recreational jet skiers and boaters)
can be a frustrating factor in the daily angling routine. It is
a well known fact that the Florida flats guides are some of the
best trained outfitters in the business. Guides are fairly expensive
from a global perspective ($300- $450+/day) and must be booked at
least a year in advance to secure bookings during optimal angling
Seasonal implications are essential: a substantial number of Florida's
tarpon stock are seasonal fish migrating up from Mexico and Central
America. These are spawning fish that move into the area each year,
remaining only for a given period of time before dispersing again.
Secondly, tarpon move onto the flats only when warm water temperatures
suit the fish's comfort zone. April is said to be a fairly decent
tarpon month in Florida. The largest tarpon of the season are typically
caught at this time, though many think this month is simply too
early to fish. "Northers" and other similar detrimental
weather patterns can completely ruin fishing in April. May is ideal,
however, with June and early July being reliable back-up months.
Primary access points are separated into three distinct areas;
- Marathon and
- Key West.
Key West is the southernmost location (approximately 130-miles from
Miami) and usually the spring's first "fishable" spot.
Marathon is located some 25-miles up the coast from Key West. Islamorada
is closest to Miami (approximately 85 miles). Most guides will closely
follow the tarpon's local migratory patterns and concentrate on
the access points offering the highest concentration of fish.
Belize has a variety of distinctive tarpon fisheries ranging from
inland river and lagoon systems to the shallow and clear flats of
Ambergris Cay, to the shallow, clear waters and creek channels of
Turneffe Island. Belize is considered to be the best value in international
tarpon destinations, as lodging and guide prices are some of the
lowest in the industry.
Ambergris Cay has been a long-time favorite of many anglers as
it is one of the world's only locations supporting a year-round
resident tarpon fishery. Ambergris' 20-60 pounds tarpon are on average
somewhat smaller than the Florida fish (80-150 pounds), but many
anglers consider this "intermediate" tarpon size to be
the most sporting of all. Ambergris' tarpon fishery is fairly small
and heavily pressured, so fish can be quite spooky. Wind is an essential
variable at Ambergris, as it has a nasty reputation for ruining
fishing by stirring up the area's flats. Optimal angling months
are from April through early-July. Slackened wind combined with
an influx of migratory tarpon maximize the cay's fishing conditions.
Anglers have two options: one is to fish out of El Pescador Lodge;
the other option is to stay in one of San Pedro's (Ambergris' only
town) small hotels and hire a local guide to take you out on the
flats. If you know what you're doing, this can greatly reduce the
cost of a trip. Decent bonefishing (and spotty permit) is also available
on surrounding flats.
Turneffe Island is not necessarily known as a tarpon resource,
but can offer fantastic tarpon fishing during the months of July
and August. Tarpon here often run well over the 100-pound mark,
substantially larger than at Ambergris Cay. The tarpon of Turneffe
are found primarily in the tidal creek channels and lagoons, but
can also be encountered on the flats' dropoffs and along the reef
and ocean side of the island. There are two full-service lodges
Turneffe Flats Lodge, and Turneffe Island Lodge.
Turneffe Island Lodge is said to be a bit more diver-oriented, while
Turneffe Flats focuses more on angling. Turneffe's tarpon population
receives almost no angling pressure, and both lodges often offer
discounts during the summer months. Aside from tarpon, Turneffe
supports a strong permit and bonefish population.
Belize's River and Lagoon Fisheries include the Manatee, Sibun,
and Belize River water sheds. Tarpon move into these rivers in May
and June to spawn in the numerous inland lagoons and then disperse
again in July. Fish run on the smaller side (10-60-pounds), but
can be quite numerous. Keep in mind that Belize's coastal rivers
are at the mercy of inland rains, and can fluctuate on a weekly
basis. Even during optimal periods, river fishing can get "blown
out" by heavy precipitation. Belize River Lodge specializes
in river fishing, and offers attractive packages combining river
and flats angling at attractive prices. Local guides can also be
hired out of Belize city on a daily basis, but this can be a sketchy
Costa Rica's tarpon fishery is composed of a series of large, tannin-stained
freshwater river systems feeding into the Caribbean. The primary
rivers include the Colorado, Parismina, and Tortugero water sheds.
In its heyday, Costa Rica was known for its fabulous freshwater
tarpon angling. Huge schools of 100-plus-pound fish would enter
the rivers and lagoons to feed and spawn presenting an easy target
for fly casters. Agricultural runoff and increased boat traffic
(both angling and eco-tour oriented) has significantly diminished
the rivers' once consistent tarpon fishing. This is not to say that
great fishing cannot still be encountered in the rivers, but the
majority of Costa Rica's feeding tarpon are now found in the river
mouths outside the Caribbean's often-times tumultuous surf line.
A typical day of fishing often involves blind casting from rocking
skiffs. The tarpon themselves usually hold in cloudy water from
six to sixty-feet deep. High-density sinking lines are the rule,
with sight- fishing limited to the times when tarpon schools push
bait onto the surface. For the fly fisherman, this is not exactly
the most aesthetic experience.
Though all Costa Rica's rivers hold resident populations of fish,
May is definitely the month to plan a trip as spawning fish tend
to maximize tarpon populations during this month. Judy Heidt's Rio
Parismina Lodge seems to get the unanimous vote for best lodge,
as her facility offers fantastic accommodations combined with state-of-the-art
game boats designed to get anglers out into the river mouth no matter
what the surf conditions. There are a dozen or so other lodges spread
out on the other rivers. Choose your lodge carefully! Incidental
species include snook (the largest snook run in September and October)
and the freshwater scrappers such as guapote (a species of Cichlid),
machaca (a species of Colossoma that looks like an overgrown bluegill)
and mojara (small bluegill-like Cichlid).
Venezuela's tarpon resources are divided into two distinct areas
-- developed and undeveloped. Rio Chico is the only "developed"
location, and if you're looking for a place to catch hordes of small
tarpon (5 to 20-pounds), this destination is definitely the place
to go. Surface fishing with small poppers and sliders on light-
weight tackle is quite thrilling if you aren't particularly concerned
with breaking any record books. Rio Chico is considered a year-round
destination, though optimal months run from September through November.
The Orinoco Delta is has a significant tarpon population, but logistics
seem to prevent the construction of a permanent camp. There are
also two river systems (Bireme and Macura Rivers) on the Guyana/Venezuela
border that are rumored to offer decent small tarpon fishing, but
they too are in the early stages of development.
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
The Yucatan peninsula should not be considered "primarilly
a tarpon destination as the fishing is often times spotty and highly
restricted: the area's attraction is its combined strengths of bonefish,
permit, reef and offshore (spring and summer) opportunities. The
Yucatan's tarpon population is comprised of a mix of resident and
migratory fish that combines forces during the optimal months of
May and June. Resident fish range from 5 to 50-pounds, and reside
mainly in a series of inland "seep" mangrove-lined lagoons
and tidal creek channels that run below Cancun, Mexico to the Belizean
border. Migratory tarpon can exceed 150-pounds. These fish run along
the coastal flats and creek channels and can even be taken from
the surf in certain conditions.
Africa, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guyana, Surinam, Guatemala and Brazil
all offer tarpon fishing to a certain, unpredictable degree. Nicaragua
has two locations with river fisheries similar to those found in
Costa Rica. The first is the Matagallia River located almost dead
center on the east coast. The other is the San Juan River that borders
Costa Rica (flowing out of Lake Nicaragua). Both these rivers are
rumored to offer the outstanding inland/river tarpon fishing once
commonly encountered in the other previously-mentioned Costa Rican
rivers. What actually develops remains to be seen.
Sizing fly tackle to the fish's proportions is essential. If you
try to handle large tarpon on light tackle, you not only risk increased
breakoffs (not to mention a broken rod), but possibly jeopardize
that particular fish's health by over exhaustion. Conversely, catching
a five-pound tarpon on a stiff eleven-weight rod is downright sacrilegious!
As a general rule, small tarpon (5-20-pounds) can be handled on
a stiff 8-weight rod, while mid-sized fish (25-80-pounds) should
be fished with a stiff 10-weight. Anything larger (80+pounds) should
be taken on a stiff 11 or 12-weight rod with a fighting grip for
Reels should be sturdy, saltwater models with smooth, dependable
drag systems. Spools must hold 100-300 yards of backing (the larger
the tarpon, the more backing you might need). Fly lines and leaders
should also be considered. You can't catch tarpon on a floating
line if the fish are holding in thirty feet of water. All tarpon
need to be fished with a shock leader, as even the smallest fish's
abrasive teeth will chew through most small diameter monofilament.
Fly choice and color depend on water color, light intensity, and
the primary bait types in each particular fishery. The list of tarpon
flies is extensive and varied, though typically large, bushy "Whistler-type"
flies are used in cloudy water. More realistic/streamlined flies
are often needed for clearwater tarpon.