5 Best Places in the World to Catch Monster Tarpon

There is nothing more exhilarating in this world than chasing silvers. I am hard pressed to remember anything that caused the type of adrenaline rush that occurs when you see giant tarpon surfacing. There are many unbelievable places to satisfy the tarpon urge, so making the list wasn’t easy, but before we jump into the top 5 let’s take a quick minute to refresh ourselves with the Tarpon Facts:

Length: up to 8 feet.
Weight: 40-100lbs are common and can reach over 280lbs.

Tarpon is one of the most sought-after inshore, big-game fish, the tarpon puts up a stubborn and spectacular fight, often leaping up to 10 feet out of the water. It’s difficult to hook because of its hard, bony mouth.

Tarpon populates a wide variety of habitats but is primarily found in coastal waters, bays, estuaries, and mangrove-lined lagoons within tropical, subtropical, and temperate climates. The normal habitat depth extends to 98 feet. Tarpon can tolerate euryhaline environments and often enter river mouths and bays and travel upstream into fresh water. In addition, Tarpon can also tolerate oxygen-poor environments due to a modified air bladder that allows them to inhale atmospheric oxygen. The only variable that seems to limit their choice of habitat is temperature. Research shows tarpon to be thermophilic. Rapid decreases in temperature have been known to cause large tarpon kills. During such temperature drops, tarpon usually takes refuge in warmer deeper waters.

Tarpon inhabits a large range on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The range in the Eastern Atlantic extends from Senegal to the Congo. In the Western Atlantic, the fish primarily inhabit warmer coastal waters concentrating around the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and the West Indies. However, the tarpon is not uncommon as far north as Cape Hatteras, and the extreme range extends from Nova Scotia in the north, Bermuda, and to Argentina to the south. Tarpon has been found at the Pacific terminus of the Panama Canal and around Coiba Island.

Here are the 5 best places in the world to catch Monster Tarpon:

1. Boca Grande, Florida

With a typical 80-day season (Boca Grande) producing an average 5,000 tarpon landed, it’s no secret that the world’s best tarpon fishing hole yields more tarpon than any one location in the world. Nobody knows for sure why tarpon is so in love with the waters of Boca Grande Pass. But one thing is certain: When temperatures start to rise every spring around the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, there is no finer place to be on the front of a flats boat.

Tarpon congregates and spawns out of passes along most of the entire rim of the Gulf of Mexico. In the spring, it appears that many of the fish’s habits all along the coast are in orientation to Boca Grande Pass. With depths reaching near 80 feet, it is the deepest natural pass in the state. It is the only major outlet of Charlotte Harbor which is fed by two major rivers, the Peace and the Myakka. As the bottleneck of the harbor, the currents are strong and serve as the Autobahn to many species of fish and bait.

And giant tarpon loves to congregate there. 8 International Game Fish Association World Records have been taken at Boca Grande. The tarpon fishing is so good in Boca Grande, that many of the guiding services guarantee tarpon, a No Fish, No Pay Policy!

2. Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Africa.

Few fishermen in the world have heard of Guinea-Bissau let alone know where it is on a map. Tell the same fishermen that the average tarpon in this relatively unknown nation weighs over 200 pounds and his expression will likely change to one of skepticism. Guinea-Bissau is a tiny nation of 1.3 million, located south of Senegal and north of Guinea and Sierra Leone, on the northern coast of West Africa. This repressed nation has had a long, hard path over the last 35 years. Revolutions and coups abounded until the country finally had its first transparent election in 2000. Since then, Guinea-Bissau has been slowly and peacefully rebuilding.

World-renowned French fisherman, Patrick Sebile hasn’t missed a tarpon season in Guinea-Bissau in 11 years as of 2004. He is part owner of Africa Bijagos Tarpon Club. He has fished 53 different countries and has firm conviction that Guinea-Bissau is home to the best trophy-tarpon fisheries in the world. During the same season mentioned above, there had been 36 tarpons caught over 220lbs. In 2003, a tarpon was landed in Guinea-Bissau, Africa, weighing an astonishing 286 pounds, 9 ounces. Some of the world’s largest tarpon await for the adventurous angler who dares fish the remote backcountry waters of western Africa.
To read a more in-depth article on this great tarpon fishery then visit saltwatersportsman.com.
Also, Fishing Adventurer on ESPN will show a segment on fishing in Guinea-Bissau on Sunday, January 18th, 2009 at 8:30 am EST. (Not sure if he will be fishing for tarpon).

3. Key West, Florida

This place has the Hemingway Factor, but mostly if you are looking for the best mix of big tarpon and guiding talent to find them, the Key West is your place. The Key West Harbor has the best Tarpon fishing in North America. Large schools of Tarpon start to migrate to the Harbor in March and fishing is in full swing in April. You will see large schools of 80-100lb plus Tarpon rolling and occasionally those closer to 150lbs.

Blessed with perfect geography, The Florida Keys lays perfectly in the middle of the annual tarpon migration. Each year hundreds of thousands of tarpon migrate through the clear shallow water of the Florida Keys, Islamorada and Key West.

Ultimately, Key West has the history, the nightlife on Duval Street, the mix of large bones and permit, but if it is big tarpon you seek then Key West can deliver. The Florida state record tarpon was caught in Key West and weighed a whopping 248lbs.

4. Isla Holbox, Mexico

I might be a little partial to this little slice of heaven on earth because this is the only tarpon fishery I have fished. Although I have the desire to fish the other places, something always draws me back to Holbox. Isla Holbox has long been a quiet getaway for the avid beachcomber and birding enthusiast, but Holbox is also a fly fishing tarpon addicts Mecca. Tarpon has always been here but few fishermen ever have fished these waters. This lack of pressure makes it much more likely that a huge tarpon will eat your fly and rocket 6 feet in the air while your jaw hangs open in awe.

Isla Holbox is a 3-hour bus ride north from Cancun. You then take a 30-minute ferry ride landing in Holbox harbor. There you will find an island with no ATM, no vehicles (other than golf carts), and no paved roads. The atmosphere is great. The food is excellent, and the tarpon fishing is fantastic. We went out with Holbox Tarpon Club, Mr. Sandflea Alejandro and they didn’t disappoint. We were there in late May and the weather didn’t want to cooperate for the biggies. We did have one day where we chased silvers, and our group ended up with a 100lb tarpon and an 80lber as well. We still found plenty of time to hit the lagoons and rivers for the smaller tarpon.

My friend and fly fisherman extraordinaire Wyatt Tibbitts has fished Holbox for the last five years and has caught himself or another experienced fisherman, tarpon in the 150lb + category. After hanging the entire week with longtime resident and unbelievable guide/fly fisherman Alejandro “Mr. Sandflea” Vega I saw the pictures to prove that Large Tarpon abounds in the waters of Isla Holbox.

5. Bonthe, Sierra Leone, Africa

Besides the movie Blood Diamond, like our #5, few people have ever heard of Sierra Leone. However, Victor Sebag landed a 283-pound tarpon there in 1991. In 2006, the International Game Fishing Associations book of world records listed 12 world records for various line classes caught in the area. Fish weighing from 166 to 283 pounds were booked.

Bonthe is a remote, attractive, old town on a large island off southern Sierra Leone. In colonial times it used to be a major trading center for piassava and other agricultural products. The Tarpon season there is from January to May. Record fish have been caught with live bait in the estuary, but there is also the possibility of fly fishing in the tarpon breeding grounds. Very little fishing has taken place in the estuary during the past decade, which makes the opportunity to catch big tarpon a reality on these low-pressure waters. For truly adventurous anglers, there is Gabon and Sierra Leone. Getting to Bonthe is expensive and staying there can be dangerous but some monstrous fish are waiting. The Gambia River has recently produced two tarpons that topped 300 pounds but didn’t qualify as records for technical reasons.

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