Fishing is one of the best things to do in the Florida Keys. Hands down. Anglers of all skill levels have something to look forward to—whether that's hooking a 40-pound sailfish, trolling for dolphin, or spearfishing grouper. And if you're a fishing enthusiast, you've probably heard about the legendary tarpon fishing hotspots in the Florida Keys.
Tarpon are some of the most thrilling fish to catch, known for their acrobatic leaps out of the water and impressive size. But catching tarpon in the Florida Keys isn't just about the thrill of the action—it's also about respecting the fish and the environment. We’ve talked about how to protect coral reefs, but let’s dive deeper into sustainable practices for tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys as well as the regulations you need to know to ensure a safe and legal fishing experience.
Tarpon are big, bold, and highly migratory fish found in the warm coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. The best time of year for tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys is from April through July. They can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh (up to) a whopping 280 pounds! Their size—plus shiny, reflective scales and bluish-green tint—make them easy to spot when close to the surface.
A defining characteristic of tarpon is a large, downturned mouth that extends beyond their eyes. And while their big ole mouth looks toothless, tarpon actually have small, densely packed teeth all over their mouth including jaws, tongue (!!), and skull base. Another cool characteristic of tarpon is their swim bladder, which allows them to gulp air from the surface and stay afloat in low-oxygen environments.
Tarpon Fishing Regulations
Tarpon fishing regulations in the Florida Keys are designed to help protect the species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is your best source for understanding statewide regulations, but we’ll highlight some key facts. By following these statewide regulations, you can help ensure the sustainability of the tarpon in the Florida Keys—while also promoting the long-term health and abundance of the species.
Unless you’re going for an official state or world record, tarpon is catch-and-release only and any tarpon over 40 inches MUST remain in the water. Tarpon tags may only be used to harvest potential state or world records. Anglers are encouraged to use the proper tackle—the use of snagging gear, such as treble hooks, is prohibited when fishing for tarpon.
Sustainable Practices For Tarpon Fishing
While it’s incredibly fun to catch tarpon, it's important to be mindful of the impact our fishing habits can have on the environment. There are plenty of ways to fish for tarpon while also preserving their population and their habitat. Let's take a closer look at some of these practices and how to incorporate them into your next tarpon fishing adventure.
Use of Circle Hooks: Circle hooks are designed to reduce deep hooking. Plus, it’s more effective at catching tarpon in their big ole mouths. The use of circle hooks will reduce the likelihood of injuring the fish and increase the chances of successful catch-and-release.
Catch-and-Release: Catch-and-release is an essential sustainable practice for tarpon fishing. This involves carefully removing the hook from the fish and releasing it back into the water as quickly as possible. Avoid handling tarpon excessively and keep their gills underwater as much as possible. (This is the law in Florida, not just a sustainable practice!)
Proper Handling of Tarpon: When handling tarpon, it's important to support the fish’s weight properly and avoid touching its gills or eyes. Make sure your hands are wet or gloved before handling the fish; this will help reduce the risk of removing a protective slime layer on their body, which can make them more vulnerable to infection.
Use of Biodegradable Materials: Avoid using non-biodegradable materials like lead sinkers or plastic lures, which can harm the environment and marine life. Instead, use biodegradable fishing gear made from natural materials like balsa wood or tungsten.
Limiting Fishing Efforts: Overfishing can lead to declines in tarpon populations, so it's important to limit fishing efforts and avoid targeting large numbers of fish in a single area. Also, try to limit fight time as anything over 30 minutes will exhaust the fish and make them susceptible to predators like sharks.
Sustainable fishing practices are significant for the long-term health of marine species and ecosystems. While tarpon fishing is popular in the Florida Keys, make sure to stay in compliance with state regulations so that you have an overall rewarding experience on the water. (The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission can help you better understand fishing, hunting, or boating regulations throughout the state.)
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