Florida Keys Tarpon Fishing Season


Tarpon fishing season in the Florida Keys is a magical time. What takes place around our islands in April, May and June is one of the great wildlife migrations on the planet. Incredible numbers of giant tarpon pour through the Keys in a steady stream. Schools of 10, 100, or even a thousand tarpon can be witnessed and cast to. The only thing I can compare the excitement to is that of a child on Christmas Eve. Except it’s better.


All across the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West anglers from around the world have shown up. They nervously pace in hotel lobbies, whisper over cups of Cuban coffee, and ramble on drunkenly about tarpon at area tiki bars. The greatest show on earth has come to town and everybody knows it. Kids can be seen pointing out of car windows flying down the overseas highway at giant silver fish rolling around our bridges. Strange bleary eyed men standing on platform boats with long poles in their hands dot the horizon. One of fishing’s great spectacles has begun.


Florida Keys Migratory Tarpon Origins


There is much debate on where our migratory fish that show up during tarpon season come from. Tarpon can be found throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic tropical and sub-tropical climates. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Venezuela, The Bahamas, etc. all hold tarpon year round of various sizes. So does the Florida Keys and South  Florida. So which tarpon head where and why is still somewhat of a mystery. One thing I can tell you for certain is migratory tarpon on the west coast of Florida are bigger than the migratory tarpon in the Florida Keys. Why this is I do not know. The bonefish and tarpon trust has been engaged in a tarpon satellite tagging program for a while and the data definitely proves these fish travel great distances following water temperatures during the migration. I’m sure we will learn a lot more, but call me old fashioned I personally like a little mystery in my fishery. Visit the bonefish and tarpon trust to find out more on tarpon movements and the effect on the Florida Keys tarpon fishing season.


A Tale Of Two Tarpon Seasons


As a fly fishing guide in the Florida Keys tarpon “season” for me began months ago. Usually around the beginning of February a string of warm, humid, nights will trigger a mysterious phenomenon. After a stretch of this weather one morning tarpon will appear magically everywhere throughout the back country basins and flats. They seemingly just appear out of thin air. This is especially true in Everglades National Park and the Marquesas Keys.


This is usually the best tarpon fishing of the year, but it’s almost impossible to time. If you ever hit it just right you will be ruined on tarpon fishing for life. These are tarpon that haven’t been fished to in months, and eat big flies with gusto. They WILL eat the fly if you put it in their face. I have had days where we jumped 15 or more full size tarpon in February. It can be that good. This early Florida Keys tarpon fishing season will last until mid April when the fish hit the beaches in earnest.


The Official Tarpon Fishing Season


I’m not sure who decides but “tarpon season” starts in mid April and runs to July 1st. By this time of year I am working every single day getting up at 4 am and occasionally forgetting my wife’s name. It is a constant blur of new faces, blown casts, incredible bites, heartbreaking losses, and mind blowing jumps that are seared into my brain forever. Followed by washing the boat, playing with my son, and crouching over the fly tying vise way too late in the night. By May I average around 4 hours of sleep a night. In short I am having the time of my fucking life. I wouldn’t trade a minute of the caffeine fueled chaos that is tarpon season.


May is crazy time in the Florida Keys. Tarpon are everywhere, and so are fishermen. Along our beautiful beaches guides and anglers will be staked out every 500 yards chucking their feathered offerings at seemingly uninterested tarpon. These fish want to get wherever they are going and to get laid. It’s that simple. That’s why ocean side tarpon are notoriously hard to feed. With patience, persistence, and a little luck you can catch them however.


This time of year normally friendly guides with fried nerves have been known to yell at each other. Due mostly to over enthusiastic “trout guides” with little common sense or etiquette tempers flare. I don’t condone losing your shit when someone gets out of line, but I can’t say I’ve never done it either. Deep down we all know that the show will be over all to soon, and we are trying to cram in as much tarpon mayhem as possible before the curtain falls. After all it’s how we feed our families and our egos.


The Beginning Of The End Of Tarpon Season In The Keys


June is a great month for tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys. Most years the weather is better than May and the tarpon are still swimming the beaches in big numbers. Around famous bridges like Bahai Honda, Seven Mile, and Channel 5 camera boats following Bill Dance or Roland Martin can be spotted. Do-it-yourself tarpon anglers and wannabe guides are anchored up under every bridge stall. Live crabs are demanding serious prices and people have bought all the flourocarbon leader up between Duval St. and Homestead. This is what they have all been waiting for, the main attraction.

Tarpon on beaches eat a little better in June. Let’s retract that. The weather is better and better casts are made in June. Not to mention myself and my fellow guides have settled into a rhythm. In June I hit my stride and I relax. All of the sudden it’s fun again. I have days that remind me of why I became a fly fishing guide in the first place. I can’t quite shake the feeling though, that soon it will be coming to an end. Yes I will still be guiding, and still catching tarpon for months to come, but the insanity of “tarpon season” will leave. Hotels will empty, boats will be further apart, and the part time guides I love to bitch about will pack up their toys and go back to Colorado, Montana or wherever the hell else they all come from.

Soon something will be missing. It will be the day AFTER Christmas, and I will know deep down that I will have to wait another year for that feeling. It’s not all bad though, I get to go back to my first love fly fishing for permit. I have long winter nights ahead crouched over the vise like a mad professor convinced I am tying the next great tarpon fly. The fly that will make every one of those smug bastards eat next tarpon season.


If you would like to try fly fishing for tarpon in the Florida keys you can contact me here.