The 5 Best Places on Earth to Catch Monster Tarpon

January 6, 2009

Tarpon

Fly Fishing Frenzy Trophy Case Tuesday

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 are some 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 populate a wide variety of habitats, but are 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 take refuge in warmer deeper waters.

Tarpon inhabit 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, tarpon are 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 have been found at the Pacific terminus of the Panama Canal and around Coiba Island.

Alright, let the countdown begin.

tarpon Boca Grande

tarpon Boca Grande

5. 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 are 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 congregate and spawn 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 love 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!

giant tarpon Guinea Bissau

giant tarpon Guinea Bissau

4. 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 tarpon 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 back country waters of western Africa.
To read a more in depth article on this great tarpon fishery go to saltwatersportsman.com.
Also, Fishing Adventurer on ESPN will show a segment on fishing in Guinea-Bissau on Sunday January 18th 2009 at 8:30am EST. (Not sure if he will be fishing for tarpon).

tarpon key west

tarpon key west

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.

tarpon Holbox

tarpon Holbox

2. 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 have 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 other experienced fisherman, tarpon in the 150lb + category. After hanging the entire week with long time resident and unbelievable guide/fly fisherman Alejandro “Mr. Sandflea” Vega I saw the pictures to prove that Large Tarpon abound in the waters of Isla Holbox.

tarpon sierra leone

tarpon sierra leone

1. 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 centre 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 there is expensive and staying there can be dangerous but some monstrous fish are waiting. The Gambia River has recently produced two tarpon that topped 300 pounds but didn’t qualify as records for technical reasons.

Here is a quick list of the tarpon world records.

CONVENTIONAL TACKLE

  • M- 2lb 106 lb Florida 1992 George E Hogan
  • M- 4lb 128lb 8 0z Florida 1992 G.E. Hogan
  • M -6lb 139lb 14 oz Florida 1997 G.E Hogan
  • M-8lb 147lb 6 0z Florida 1982 Anton G Zukas
  • M-12lb 188lb 7oz Sierra Leone Michel Delaunay
  • M-16lb 202lb 13oz Sierra Leone Daniel Lopuszanski
  • M-20lb 243LB 0 ox Florida Gus Bell
  • M-30lb 283lb 0 oz Venezuela 1956 Mario Salasar
  • M 30lb 283lb 4 oz Sierra Leone 1991 Y. Victor Sebag

FLY ROD

  • Tippet 2lb 32lb 0oz Florida 1990 D, Chernansky
  • Tippet 4lb 49lb 4 oz Florida 1997 C.D. Owen Jr
  • Tippet 6lb 82lb8oz Florida 1977 Stu Apte
  • Tippet 8lb 127 lb 0oz Florida 1985 Del Brown
  • Tippet 12lb 177lb 0oz Florida 1994 W,W Pate J
  • Tippet 16lb 188lb 0oz Florida W.W,.Pate Jr
  • Tippet 20lb 187.6oz Sierra Leone 1992 BO’keele

Compiling a list like this is never easy because each angler has his/her experience and preferences, but it is always fulfilling when one research the best places in the world to fly fish.

As always, the Fly Fishing Frenzy welcomes any feedback and comments.

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21 Responses to “The 5 Best Places on Earth to Catch Monster Tarpon”

  1. Vidar Tøsse Says:

    We checked out a lot of information on Guinea Bissau some years ago and ectualy planed a trip to the Biagos Arcepelago but droped it after several reports about lousy guides with no knolage about fly fishing. A friend of mine is taking a party down ther late tis month… so we’ll se what he says when he gets back!

    Reply

    Chubbs Reply:

    Vidar, that would be awesome. The research showed that Guinea-Bissau was just a crazy place to catch huge Tarpon. I would love to hear feedback from someone who has actually been there.
    Let us know for sure. thanks for the info Vidar.

    Reply

  2. Big Hoss Says:

    Is anyone going to Holbox this year?

    Reply

    Chubbs Reply:

    Absolutely. You in?

    Reply

    Vidar Tøsse Reply:

    I would love to fish Holbox one day to! Have a few frends who brag about it. When is the best time to go? I have a trip to Yucatan coming up early march(permit) but I know that might be to early for the big tarpon up at H. ?

    Anyway; if anyone want’s LOT of tarpon action(though not monsters but tons of fish in the 20 to 80lb range!) + good sized bones, permit, big jack crevalle, snappers, cudas and shark…. We have space av. to Cuba this spring! :)

    Reply

    Chubbs Reply:

    Vidar, that sounds awesome. i sent you a message on FB that i probably cant make it then but have a buddy that might like to go. just reply back to me and let me know the costs. Cuba would be awesome. Do you fish there often?

    Vidar Tøsse Reply:

    Every year in the spring.
    Have anyone got the last issue(13) of Wild On The Fly? They have an article on “Big Tarpon of Costal Angola”

    chubbsypeterson Reply:

    I dont Vidar. i will look for it online. I did find a website that hosts trips out of Angola called http://www.flycastaway.com It looks like a pretty sweet group with some great destinations.

  3. mike almendro Says:

    hi im keen to fish bissau but how do you get there from south africa…i have fished angola for years .the fly fishing is average and the camp not well organised you are wellcome to give me a call

    Reply

  4. mike almendro Says:

    should anybody want to fish for tarpon in angola..be carefull..they are not plentyful..the camp only has one boat..it is not suited to cast fly..and if there are other guests you could spend a lot of exspensive time waiting your turn and thr river mouth is dangerous

    Reply

  5. Capt.Jeff Legutki Says:

    The Everglades and the 10,000 Islands April – July is hard to beat. Laid up fish in the calm quiet windless bays all by yourself, as well as migrating fish in schools of hundreds completely under pressured.

    Different from all other areas because the protection of the many islands, calm glassy conditions compared to the open flats of the crowded Keys.

    This is just an opinion through experience. No one really knows of the world class tarpon fishing in the 10,000 Islands and the Everglades.

    Reply

  6. Capt.Jeff Legutki Says:

    [kaltura-widget wid=”ar7rhndym6″ size=”comments” /]

    Reply

  7. ross Says:

    Hey Man, digg the site. it is my dream to catch the tarpon, it is the king of all fish to me. One day man. ill put you on my blog role. take care.

    Reply

  8. Ben Says:

    The record for fly rod 20# Tippett is incorrect. Jim Holland caught the 202 lb record in 2001 in Homassasa, FL.

    Reply

  9. Jason Heenan Says:

    Hi all,
    great website, lots of good stuff. I’ve been twice to Guinea Bissau, lots of very big tarpon, I’ve seen them personally to 220 lbs and know they go a lot bigger.

    A fantastic place to fish, if anybody needs any details contact me at Jason@Heenan.co.uk

    tight lines :)

    Reply

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