In previous articles, I’ve written about our renowned snook and redfish you can find here while fishing in the Ten Thousand Islands; I wanted to dedicate this article to talking about the final member of the “Everglades Grand Slam,” the tarpon.
Tarpon, otherwise known as silver kings, are prehistoric fish that in fact, were swimming around in the waters dating back 100 million years ago! They were given the nickname “silver king,” because of their grand appearance in size and when they jump their body reflects a bright flash of silver.
Tarpon are found living in waters that are preferably warmer. This is why they love the Ten Thousand Islands, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies. Smaller numbers of tarpon will make their way up north as far as Virginia and as south in the western Atlantic as central Brazil.
Tarpon have a boney, hard mouth that has a rough feeling, almost like sandpaper. They also don’t have any teeth, so when they eat, they swallow their prey whole. A tarpon’s diet consists of mostly crabs, shrimp, mullet, pinfish, catfish, needlefish, sardines and other small fish found on the bottom. An interesting fact about them is that they are one of the few fish that have a swim bladder. This swim bladder can help tarpon breathe raw air and it acts like a lung. Of course, tarpon can breathe through their gills like majority of fish, but the swim bladder is special because it is one of the reasonings why they are able to put up such a strong fight for so long when hooked. It is also an advantage to fishermen for tarpon to have this, since tarpon will “roll” on the surface occasionally to get a breath of oxygen. This is usually when the habitat they’re in is not providing enough oxygen for them. Tarpon are easier to spot while fishing when they roll.
Female tarpon can reach lengths up to eight feet and can weigh as much as 300 pounds! This leads to females can actually live longer than smaller males. Females can live to be over 50 years whereas males that are smaller may only have a life span of 30 years. In fact, the oldest tarpon in captivity was at an aquarium in Chicago and lived to be 63 years old.
Tarpon start to spawn in April and finish around the month of July. When the tides are the strongest and the major moons occur, tarpon head over 100 miles offshore to spawn. Incredibly, as many as 12 million eggs at once can be laid by one female. This is why when fishing, if you happen to catch a tarpon it is super important to catch and release them carefully.
Tarpon can recreationally be fished for in Florida, and the main practice is catch and release because they are not of any food value. However, there are a few places in the world such as Africa and Panama, where the natives there consider tarpon a delicacy and they sell them on a local scale. If anglers want to possess tarpon for the purposes of trophy fishing, since they are one of Florida’s leading sport fish, tags can be purchased. Without the tag though, possession of a tarpon is illegal.
So, if you’re out on the boat in the Ten Thousand Islands, whether it be for fishing or leisure, if you see a large fish surfacing with a shine to it, make way for the majestic silver king.