An Overview of the Amazing Tarpon

Tarpon

Boca Grande fishing charters explain this exciting fish sought by generations of Florida anglers

Of all the gamefish that inhabit the waters around Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor, the Tarpon is by far the most exciting catch. Although you won’t be able to keep the Tarpon since it’s such a bony fish with zero food value, the amazing, adrenaline-pumping fight it provides will certainly keep you coming back for more.

Scientifically speaking, the Atlantic Tarpon is known as Megalops atlanticus. The term “megalops” is a Greek term meaning “large-eyed.” If you ever see a Tarpon up close, one thing you will certainly notice is its large eyes.

Another thing you will undoubtedly notice is its silvery color, especially when the Tarpon jumps out of the water and sunlight hits its body. This bright flash that reflects off of its scales is why anglers and fishing charters around Boca Grande commonly refer to the Tarpon as the “silver king.” Since the Tarpon’s habitat extends over such a large area, it is actually known by a wide variety of names.

Tarpon are also interesting in that they have a special swim bladder that allows small Tarpon to breathe in water with low oxygen. This is especially helpful in the summer months in the shallow backwater areas.

This of course is just the beginning. The Tarpon is an amazing creation of nature not only for its awesome power, but also for its sleek appearance.

General facts about the Tarpon that live in the waters around Boca Grande and all along the Gulf coast

Again, the Tarpon is such a bony fish that its food value to people is zero. However, due to its size and energy, it is considered one of the top gamefish for both novice and experienced anglers. Continue reading for a brief description of the Tarpon’s appearance, size, habitat, diet and more.

* Appearance – The Tarpon is quite large and has a thick body and silvery color except for its back, which can be described as a dark green to gray color. Its mouth comes in the shape of a large scoop and it has an elongated ray on its dorsal fin. The Tarpon’s scales are thick and can be compared to a coat of armor. This is one reason why the Tarpon has zero value in terms of food.

atlantic_tarpon

Image courtesy of NOAA Southeast Fisheries Center

* Size – Tarpon can grow to be quite large. Females can grow to over 8 feet in length and weigh over 300 pounds and have a lifespan of over 50 years on average. Males are a bit smaller and generally live around 30 years. Most of the Tarpon caught range between 25 and 80 pounds though. The world record weighing 286 pounds was caught in West Africa in 2003 while Florida’s record of 243 pounds was caught near Key West in 1975.

* Habitat – The Tarpon’s habitat extends throughout the temperate, sub-tropical and tropical waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. However, the Tarpon is also commonly found in Central and South America and along the coast of West Africa. They mostly live in bays, estuaries and near mangroves, which why Florida is one of their prime habitats. Tarpon are interesting in that they can survive in freshwater or low oxygen water due to their ability to breathe air above water.

tarponbasemap

Image courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History

* Diet – The Tarpon’s diet mainly depends on its stage of development. In the larval stage, the Tarpon will absorb nutrients directly from the seawater. As they continue growing, they will move on to Zooplankton, insects and small fish. Once they’re fully grown though, their diet will consist of pinfish, shrimp, saltwater catfish and crabs. Since they don’t have much in the way of teeth, they typically just swallow their dinner whole. Tarpon will typically feed both in the day and at night.

Due to its size, the Tarpon have very few predators. Small fish and Zooplankton may eat them in the egg and larval stages. The only real predators they have as adults are Bull and Hammerhead sharks, dolphins and alligators.

* Reproduction – Tarpon generally spawn during the early- to mid-summer months (May, June, July) well offshore. Currents then move the larval to inshore areas where the Tarpon grow to maturity. They typically reach sexual maturity at around 6-7 years of age. During spawning, female Tarpon will release up to 20 million eggs. Despite such a large number, only a small fraction of these will survive to adulthood.

Tarpon generally pose no threat to humans since they spook so easily. However, accidental injuries while landing and releasing a Tarpon have been known to occur, which is why anglers should make sure the fish is good and tired before trying to release it.

If you’re ever traveling through Boca Grande or other areas of Florida, an experienced fishing charter will gladly show you why so many anglers consider the Tarpon to be the most exciting of all the gamefish out on the water.

Capt. Leighton Ingram of Krewe Chief Charters is a 3rd generation Tarpon fishing guide in Boca Grande. He has spent a lifetime fishing these waters both recreationally and as a fishing charter captain. To learn more or to schedule a trip, visit KreweChief.com or click here to learn more today!

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