Tarpon Fishing Tackle and Gear, an Anglers Guide

Tarpon Fishing Tackle and Gear, an Anglers Guide

This article will cover the tarpon fishing tackle and gear that anglers will need in order to pursue them. Tarpon are perhaps the premier game fish in the world. They earned their nick name, “the silver king”. There are few opportunities for anglers to sight cast to a fish well over one hundred pounds using spinning or fly tackle. This often occurs in clear shallow, water. Tarpon are famous for leaping over six feet out of the water!

best tarpon fishing tackle and gear

Tarpon are found in warm tropical and sub tropical waters. In the United States, they are primarily found in Florida. However, they can be caught in the summer in Gulf Coast waters and along the east coast up to North Carolina. Tarpon are plentiful throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Africa has some tarpon as well. The world record is 286 pounds!

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Tarpon are found in a variety of environments. Most anglers associate them with clear, shallow, tropical waters. Often times, they are caught by sight casting live baits, lures, and flies to fish. They are found in deeper waters as well, especially at the mouths of rivers and bays. Both juvenile and trophy sizes tarpon are caught up in rivers as well.

tarpon fishing in Florida

Best tarpon fishing tackle and gear

Anglers seeking tarpon tackle will need very stout equipment. Tarpon grow over a hundred pounds and heavy gear is required to land them. Also, it is not fair for the fish to battle it for hours on tackle that is too light. Anglers fishing for tarpon will need heavy spinning tackle and conventional outfits as well.

Spinning tackle for tarpon fishing

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Anglers chasing giant tarpon will need stout gear. A 7 foot to 8 foot rod with a fast action is a good all-around choice. The term “fast” action means that the rod is quite stout at the butt section and then up through the center of the rod, then tapering to a more limber tip. This combination gives anglers a flexible tip which facilitates casting baits and lures along with a stout butt section to handle a heavy fish.

Tarpon fishing video

Basically, spinning reels are very similar to what are used for other types of fishing. However, they are larger with quality drag systems and multiple bearings. There are many different manufacturers who may quality spinning reels that are suitable for tarpon fishing. Penn is a brand that is been around a long time and still makes quality products today.

Shimano manufactures several reels as well. The Shimano Baitrunner is very popular among tarpon anglers. It has a feature which allows a fish to take a live bait and run off with it under a light drag pressure and not the full pressure of the real used when fighting the fish.

Fishing line options

Sarasota tarpon fishing

Most anglers have gone to braided line when fishing for tarpon these days. It has several advantages over monofilament line. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that the thinner line offers anglers much more line capacity on the reel as well as more casting distance. It is more expensive, however last a very long time. Anglers do need to take care when tying knots as it is a bit different than with monofilament. Most anglers opt for 40 pound or 60 pound braided line.

Some anglers still prefer monofilament line when tarpon fishing. The argument can be made that the stretch of monofilament is actually a benefit when fighting a fish is largest tarpon that leap and make violent head shakes. It is also much less expensive and knots are easier to tie. It really is just a matter of preference. Most anglers use 25 to 30 pound line when choosing monofilament.

Lighter spinning combinations for smaller tarpon

Tampa Bay tarpon

There are certainly instances where anglers will have the opportunity to catch smaller tarpon. This occurs in many of the backwater areas of the Florida Keys and 10,000 islands as well as areas in the Caribbean. In this application, a medium spinning outfit works fine. Many anglers already own a suitable combination. The same tackle that works well for snook and redfish as well as smaller bluefish and striped bass be more than adequate.

Conventional gear for tarpon fishing

There is a place tarpon fishing for conventional outfits as well. There are many situations where anglers do not need to cast. This includes vertically fishing with either artificial lures such as jigs or live bait as well as anchoring up and bottom fishing with live or cut bait. Tarpon are opportunistic feeders and are certainly not above taking advantage of an easy meal lying on the bottom. Medium conventional outfits that can be cast a short distance when needed are the best choice.

Conventional tackle for smaller tarpon

Just as with spinning tackle, there are situations where anglers will be fishing for smaller tarpon. This is a situation where medium light conventional tackle works very well. Anglers casting heavier lures such as plugs or larger live baits can easily cast the offering far enough while having the advantage of conventional tackle when fighting the fish. The Shimano Calcutta line of reels is highly thought of by many saltwater anglers.

Fly fishing tackle for tarpon

fly fishing for tarpon

Many anglers who enjoy fly fishing consider tarpon to be the ultimate challenge, and for good reason! Hooking and landing a 150 pound tarpon is an incredible feat for any angler. Just as with spinning tackle, fly tackle for tarpon fishing is basically the same, just heavier. Most anglers chasing giant fish opt for an 11wt or 12wt outfit. A quality real with a lot of backing is a must. Most anglers do well with an intermediate sink tip line or full sinking line, depending on the situation.

Tarpon fishing leaders

Some type of leader is almost always used when fishing for tarpon. The length and strength of the leader depends on a variety of factors. The primary factor is the size of the fish being pursued. Most anglers chasing giant tarpon will use 60 pound to 80 pound fluorocarbon leader. Lengths vary by preference. Some anglers use very long leaders, up to 10 foot. Others prefer to 66 feet of line and then use a 30 inch leader. The latter selection usually makes casting easier.

Hooks for tarpon fishing

There are certainly a wide variety of choices when it comes to hooks for tarpon fishing. Many anglers have gone over to using circle hooks. These hooks have a clever rotating motion when coming out of the fishes mouth, usually resulting in the hook being placed right in the corner. This achieves both a good hookup ratio while allowing for an easier live release. It is important when using circle hooks to not set the hook, but instead just come tight and lifting the rod tip. 8/0 is a good size for most baits.

J” hooks still have their place in tarpon fishing as well. These hooks are less bulky and cumbersome than circle hooks. This can make a difference when presentation is critical, especially in very clear water. Most anglers using them use a snell knot for added strength. 5/0 is a good all round size. Owner both offer quality “J” hooks and circle hooks for anglers tarpon fishing.

Other tarpon fishing gear

There are a few other items of gear that anglers will need when tarpon fishing. These include gloves, a cloth tape measure, a lip landing device for smaller tarpon, a long billed the, and quality sunglasses.


Gloves are a very good idea to have on board when trying to land a trophy tarpon. These fish are incredibly strong in grabbing the leader with bare hands can be difficult and even dangerous. The same goes for lipping a tarpon once it is alongside the boat. Gloves are inexpensive and necessary item that every tarpon angler should have.

Tape measure

Anglers documenting their catch, whether it’s for a tarpon released tournament or just for their own personal knowledge, will want to be able to take a length and girth of the fish. The best way to do this is with a cloth tape measure such as a tailor would use. Charts are available which will give anglers a very accurate estimate of the fishes weight based on the length and girth.

Lip grip

Anglers pursuing smaller tarpon or even those who prefer them when handling a large tarpon may want to have some type of lip landing device on the boat. The Boca Grip is a very popular example of this. These devices make lifting smaller fish up out of the water much easier and safer for the fish and the angler. Anglers using them to assist in landing larger fish need to be careful.


It sounds very basic, but a quality hat can really make a difference when tarpon fishing. In many tarpon fishing situations, the fish must be perceived before it is cast to. A quality hat with a long bill will keep the sun out of an angler’s eyes. Many of these types of caps also have flaps which protect the ears and the back of the neck from son damage.


Equality pair of sunglasses is crucial for many types of fishing and tarpon fishing is no exception. They can literally make the difference between catching fish and not. Often times, tarpon are seen cruising in the water. Conditions for site fishing are often less than ideal. Equality pair of sunglasses will aid greatly and seeing the fish and being able to present the lure, bait, or fly to the fish.

Tarpon fishing techniques

There are several different ways that anglers can catch a giant tarpon. To keep it simple, these include Beach fishing, pass fishing, and flats fishing. There are both similarities and differences between the three which will be outlined below.

Beach fishing for tarpon

Fishing for tarpon off of the beaches is great sport! Anglers sit in boats generally between 100 yards and a mile or two offshore while scanning the water for signs of fish. Most often, tarpon off of the beaches will be found in schools or pods. Fish can number from a half dozen to over 200, depending on the size of the school.

The general technique when fishing for tarpon off the beach is to locate a school then position the boat so that it intercepts the fish. The best opportunities are slow-moving schools of tarpon that are gently milling on the surface. Schools that are running hard and fast are termed Greyhound in fish and are very difficult to catch. Also, anglers will encounter schools of milling fish or daisy chaining fish. This is a unique behavior the tarpon exhibit where they mill about from head to tail on the surface in a circle.

Once an opportunity presents itself, the angler cast a live bait, artificial lure, or fly in front of the fish. It is important to judge the movements to get the offering a bit ahead of the fish. Tossing right on top of them will usually spook them and ruin that chance. Top live baits include crabs, mullet, pin fish, sardines, and threadfin herring. The best Lors are large suspending plugs and large shrimp imitations.

Anglers fishing for tarpon on the beach can also anchor and present both live and cut baits out to passing fish. What advantage of this is that anglers can cover the entire water column while also putting out a nice spread of baits. Several cut bait such as fresh cut threadfin herring are placed strategically behind into the side of the boat. Live bait such as crabs and bait fish can be tossed out behind the boat under a cork.

Tarpon fishing in inlets and river mouths

Passes, inlets, and river mouths are prime spots to catch tarpon. Boca Grande Pass on the West Coast of Florida is a world-famous example. Thousands of tarpon congregate in a fairly small area as part of their spawning process. Most inlets and passes in Florida and throughout the Caribbean have decent numbers of tarpon in the spring and early summer.

The best approach when fishing for tarpon in this situation is usually a vertical presentation. Strong currents and boat traffic make this the most practical approach. Also, often times the fish are encountered fairly deep. Casting to them is just really not a practical option. However, there will be occasions when the fish will be seen milling about on the surface.

Conventional tackle is usually used in this situation as anglers do not need to cast. Jigs wing several ounces are often used. Anglers fishing with live bait will often also use fairly heavy weights that are rigged to come loose when a tarpon takes the bait. This heavier tackle allows anglers to control a big tarpon better. This is especially important in areas where boat traffic is heavy.

Tarpon on the flats

To many anglers, tarpon and Flats fishing go together. The Florida Keys made this style of fishing legendary. Tarpon migrate through many square miles of pristine flats with crystal clear water. Tarpon are easily seen, however not easily hooked in most cases. Anglers need to use patients and stealth in order to achieve a hook up.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this type of fishing is that anglers are actually casting to the fish. The ability to cite cast to a 150 pound fish with spinning tackle is an opportunity that does not occur in very many places. The added elements of a beautiful environment make this a world-class experience.

In conclusion, this article on the best tarpon fishing tackle and gear will hopefully help anglers new to the sport of tarpon fishing achieve success!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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