Updated: Jun 27, 2020
Let me start by saying this, what works for my family may not necessarily work for yours. There is never a one way approach to anything, so take what I say with a grain of salt. The Silver King is one of the most iconic sport fish we have in North America. It's capable of long powerful runs and acrobatic leaps, which make it one of the best spectacles in the ocean. What's great about these fish is that they make themselves known immediately. There is no guessing what's on the end of the line as a tarpon back flips 4 feet high out of the water. So with that said, is this a suitable fish to take on with the family? The answer is, YES!
MICRO'S AND SMALL TARPON
Luckily for our little anglers, tarpon come in a variety of sizes. My wife and I have caught them from 7in to 7FT! The tarpons size is directly correlated to its environment. In the backwater salt ponds of the keys, you can find little juvenile tarpon ranging from a foot to 2 ft wreaking havoc on bugs and mud minnows. Small flies and swim baits make easy work of these air breathing micros. These fish can survive almost anywhere, from land locked fresh water ponds to the canals that range throughout South Florida. The best part about the small ones is, it's not an epic battle that takes what seems like an eternity for your kids. The juvenile tarpon are just as acrobatic as their big ocean dwelling brothers and sisters. When Grayton was 3, we found a backwater salt pond off highway one. Rumor is, a hurricane washed a bunch of tarpon into it and it is now called home to about 30 small tarpon. We drove over one morning to find them rolling peacefully in the shadows of the mangrove trees. After confirming their existence, we broke out the 2wt fly rod and quickly came tight using a black and purple gurgler fly. Grayton was excited just seeing the small tarpon jump over and over until we landed it. Being mindful of not dragging the fish onto the gravel shoreline, we showed Grayton what a tarpon was and how to handle the little king with respect. A spectacle never to be forgotten for a toddler.
MEDIUM SIZE TARPON
The medium size Tarpon, (10 - 50lb range) is where the family can have a lot of fun. I've watched my son and other kids take on multiple fish this size and are ready for more at the end of battle. Most of the time these tarpon are not picky and as long as you don't spook them, they are there to eat whatever you throw at them. You can cast a multitude of soft swim baits like Grabbin Tails Lures, live crabs, small mullet, the list is endless. Let's talk rod size, the environment you find them in dictates the appropriate rod and reel. In the mangroves, a 6'6" medium action Avid inshore series rod by St. Croix coupled with a 3000 series reel can make quick work of a medium size tarpon. You have to be mindful of obstacles on the shoreline and apex predators which prey upon a hooked tarpon. A simple upgrade in rod action, line and leader will cut down on the time you fight the fish. This will allow you to get the tarpon boat side as safely as possible with a successful release after being rejuvenated. Quick side note, do not take tarpon out of the water if they are larger than 40in. If you are out on the flats or fishing from the beach, a longer rod is needed to make those longer casts ahead of the fish. A tarpon has a 3ft x 3ft box in front of him where you must put a well placed cast. If you start flinging small to medium size mullet, you will want to beef up to a medium heavy rod coupled with a 5000 series reel in case you come across a fish larger than 30lbs. You want to try and get away with the smallest/thinnest hook size and thickest fluorocarbon leader with these tarpon. I spool my 3000 - 5000 series reels with 15 - 20lb Cortland master braid, which is more than enough as long as you have a strong drag and line capacity. When it comes to leader material, Cortlands quality fluorocarbon leader in the 25-30lb range is more than enough. If you're around submerged cover, bridge pilings or sharks then make the switch to 40lb fluorocarbon to get the tarpon in quickly. When it comes to the pointy end of the solution, I use quality non offset circle hooks in the 3/0 - 5/0 range. Be sure to find the thinnest but strongest hook possible for penetration of the tarpons boney jaw. Depending on what bait I'm using dictates what size hook I'm going to use, small bait equals smaller thinner hooks.
These are the tackle bruisers, 70 to 100 plus pounds. Fishing for these beasts with the family is possible but not recommended. Especially, when you have an infant and a 4 year old aboard your vessle. You will find that either you or your spouse will have to drive the boat and watch the direction of the fish to keep up while the other reels tight. Not a lot of kid supervising going on, but it is manageable for us in our small skiff. Both our kids have their life jackets on whenever were underway but also have them on 24/7 whenever were fishing for these monsters. It only takes a split second for something bad to happen, so it's better to plan and prevent a man overboard. Wearing a coast guard approved PFD and having a clear and clean deck will take care of most of your potential problems. These big Tarpon have been known to knock people off their boats and also jump into the boat. It takes an experienced "team" of anglers in my opinion to be fishing for these monsters with two kids in a small skiff. Do not bite off more than you and your spouse can chew. Whenever we go toe to toe with these tarpon we beef up our rod size to a medium heavy St. Croix Mojo Salt. It's a way thicker blank made to crank on bigger fish. We use 6000-8000 series reels spooled with 30-40lb braid connected to 5 ft piece of 60lb fluorocarbon leader depending again on the sharks or submerged obstacles. A 6/0 to 7/0 eagle claw trokar AP circle hooks are the way to go if you free line a crab or mullet. The most effective way to land these fish quickly and safely is to "give them the business." Put a whoopin' on them as soon as they're hooked and don't allow them to roll or get air. The tarpon pictured above was landed in 12 minutes because we rode him hard for the first 5 min. If you break their spirit they will give up quickly after. Be sure to give the fish time to breath up boat side and get oxygen rich water over its gills before you release him back into the wild. The last thing you want to do is kill a fish older than you or feed the sharks a free meal.
THE VERDICT IS CLEAR
I can't think of any other fish that gives you the entertainment factor that the tarpon does. You and your family will remember each and every battle with these fish no matter the size. With that being said, exercise some moderation and target the tarpon that you can handle if you have small children aboard. Like I said before, when you start paying more attention to the fish than your small kids, it leaves a lot of room for error. The top priority is always to make lasting memories while everyone is staying safe. So get out there with the right tackle and bait and get on those silver kings while they're still around.
Stay hooked fam,
Lindsay and Scott