Tarpon (Megalops)

Appearance

An oblong body, compressed, and covered with large, thick, silvery cycloid scales. Mouth large and superior. Primarily silver in color, though its dorsal surface is somewhat darker than the ventral area.


Maximum Size

Reaches 6.5-8.5 feet (2-2.6m) and over 260 pounds (120 kg).

Geographic Range

Found in shallow coastal waters from Western Atlantic Ocean from Virginia to Brazil and Gulf of Mexico. They are also found in eastern Atlantic off tropical Africa. West Indies, Florida, and Gulf of Mexico have the heaviest populations.

Habitat

Larvae and juvenile grow up in salt marshes and mangrove ponds, tidal creeks, rivers , ditches, and beaches. Not much changes by the time they're adults, and range grows as tarpon become better equipped to handle more brackish, almost fresh water. They can do so because they come to the surface to breathe air, rather than relying on filtering oxygen through the use of gills.


Life Span

Can reach from 40-50 years of age, but generally the 15-20 range is average for tarpon.

Food

Tarpon are strict carnivores and feed on pinfish, needlefish, sardines, shrimp, and crabs. As they have small teeth they swallow prey whole when feeding.

Spawning

A 6.5 foot (2 m) long tarpon can produce over 12 million eggs. Reproductive maturity is attained when they grow to be 4 feet (120 cm) long. They spawn primarily on the Caribbean coast of the Gulf of Mexico and west of Florida.


Predators

Adult tarpon are occasionally eaten by sharks, porpoises, and alligators. As they come up to surface for air, marine birds are also a predator for the tarpon.

Information above courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

More Info On Tarpons

Out of all the fish in the seas, in North America and the waters around New Zealand and Australia, the tarpon may just be the most exciting. Tarpon is actually the common name for these fish which are known by the scientific short hand of Megalops because they belong to the Megalops genus in the Megalopidae family of fish. There are 2 primary types of these fish, one is native to the Atlantic Ocean (the Megalops atlanticus) and the other (Megalops cyprinoides) the oceans of the Indo Pacific region around Australia.

The Atlantic version of the tarpon is found along the coast of North America as far north as the state of Virginia and as far south as the coastal waters off the South American country of Brazil. They are dense in the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. In the eastern Atlantic waters they are found around the African coastal nations of Angola and Senegal. The Indo Pacific tarpon can be found around the east coast of Africa, around Southeast Asia, Tahiti, Japan and, of course, Australia. Tarpon usually reside in saltwater, but they are sometimes found in rivers that lead into saltwater marshes. Brackish waters with low amounts of dissolved oxygen can be suitable for tarpon because they have a swim bladder that they can use to breathe, which helps them survive in water that has low salt content.

Tarpon habitat varies during their life span. In the 1st stage, as larva, they are found in the clear open waters of the ocean where the temperature is warm and they can remain close to the surface. Then they will work their way to salt marshes, pools, rivers, creeks and other warm, shallow places that have a sandy or muddy bottom. They will swim up a river for a while as they grow, and then head back for the open water of the sea as they get bigger. Some will remain in freshwater their entire lives.

This is a very large species of fish, and you will need to employ specific tarpon fishing techniques when fighting them because they can be up to 8 feet long, weigh well over 100 lbs, and jump often when hooked. They are easy to recognize by their lateral lines along the side and silver colored scales. The back is a blue or green color, generally and they have very large eyes, and a large upturned mouth.

They will tend to breed off shore in warmer areas and females are extremely prolific, able to lay over 10 million eggs. They are able to breed once they reach a certain size, generally around 100 centimeters and they spawn during the early summer season. If the larva can survive for a little more than 2 months, they will generally be able to make it to maturity, but it is always tough for any young fish to make it in the wild. Other fish are their main predators, but other tarpon of larger size will eat them as will birds that feed on fish. Even grown tarpon can fall victim to a bull shark or hammerhead. Even once they are grown, the fact that they must approach the surface of the water in order to breathe puts them in a vulnerable spot for sea birds eager for a meal. Things can be rough for tarpon, but they eat their share as babies, as well, including: crabs, bugs, grass shrimp and tiny fish. Once grown, they will eat in mid water where they hunt during darkness, generally. Tarpon, like a lot of larger fish species, swallow their prey whole.

Both species of these fish are considered some of the very finest game fish in the world. They will fight like few other fish, leaping high into the air before crashing back to the water. That they can do this even though they reach the size of a small human being is even more impressive. A lot of tournaments focus on tarpon all around the world, but it is important to remember that since they are a bony fish that does not have good tasting meat, they are usually a catch and release fish.

These are the general facts about tarpon as a whole, but let's take a look at what fishing for them is like.

What Is Tarpon Fishing Like?

These strong, high flying fish are some of the most sought after, but if you are out you may want to use the services of tarpon fishing guides because there are various laws that govern these impressive game fish that are an important part of their native area's economies. For instance, in the states of Alabama and Florida, you will need a special approval permit in order to kill and keep a tarpon. Be sure to always check the local regulations because as much fun as these easy to find fish can be, you don't want to end up breaking in laws while in pursuit of them. This includes always checking the open tarpon fishing season for the area you plan to fish.

Another great tip is to get a tarpon fishing report before heading out. It is one of the things that can help you make sure you don't waste massive time searching for tarpon. You can fish for this species with a variety of methods ranging from bait fishing to fly fishing.

Flats fishing is one way to go, especially if you use a fly rod. Many anglers prefer this tarpon fishing technique because it allows the angler to feel a lot closer to a hunter than fishing generally allows. It is far more about stalking and targeting the fish than simply covering a lot of water and hoping to stumble upon a fish. A suitable fly rod outfit for tarpon would be a 10 or 12 weight rod and reel, very strong line and a leader tippet that is around 12 to 20 pounds.

When fly fishing the flats, a boat for shallow water will be used - generally, this is called a flats skiff. The tarpon fishing guide will be on the lookout for the fish and the angler will be at the bow of the boat waiting for incoming fish. Three or four feet of ocean water is generally preferred and looking for a school is the idea. The guide's job is to position the angler in such a way that the fish are intercepted. The angler will need to be very quick to cast correctly to present the fly to the fish.

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