Tarpon (Megalops Atlanticus): The Complete Guide

Many fish species grace the oceans, rivers, and ponds, but none matches the tarpon’s fighting ability. Anglers call this gamefish “silver king” due to its strength, stamina, and pulling power. Aside from that, it has a majestic appearance, validating its nickname.

Keep reading to discover more about this Florida premier gaming fish. 

Fish Profile: Tarpon Overview

A photo of a tarpon swimming in the ocean
Scientific NameMegalops atlanticus
Other names Silver king, grand écaille, sabalo real 
AppearanceLong, thick body with large scales coating the sides. Shiny silver color on the body, except for the back, that’s dark green to gray 
Ave. weight and length48 to 96 inches (4 to 8 feet), 25 to 350 lbs 
HabitatGulf of Mexico, estuaries, landlocked canals, and lagoons with temperate, tropical, and subtropical climates 
DietZooplankton, insects, crabs, crustaceans, shrimp, and small fish (dead and alive)
Spawning SeasonApril to July 
Behavior Countershade and leap 3m vertically and 20 m horizontally to escape predators. Communication happens through a thumping noise, which is also used to warn predators 
Depth range30 m (98 feet)
Conservation statusVulnerable 

What Is a Tarpon Fish? 

Tarpon fish, also known as silver king, is a slow-growing gamefish that matures at 7-13 years of age. It is a nearshore sportfish. So, you must go beyond the beaches, bays, and offshore drop-offs to catch this resilient fish. Unfortunately, the IUCN recently classified this gamefish as vulnerable. 

Anglers know this fish for its fighting abilities, which make it difficult to catch. It also has excellent stamina and will put up a fight whenever you try to catch it. 

Where Are They Found

Tarpon fish do well in shallow salty and fresh water. You’ll find freshwater tarpon in the Gulf of Mexico, river mouths, landlocked canals, shallow coastal waters, and estuaries. However, older tarpon snook is common in rivers too. 

If you live in the southeastern part of the United States, go to the fish capital, Boca Grande, in Florida. Still, you can only do recreational tarpon fishing here since this species is not a table fish. 

What Do They Look Like

This fish is hard to miss due to the shiny silver color of its sides and belly. Its back is dark green to gray. Another unique feature of this fish is its dorsal and anal fins, which have an elongated ray that forms a threadlike projection that trails behind the Atlantic tarpon. 

If you’re wondering how this fish survives in bays (and low-oxygen habitats), its swim bladder connects to its throat. As a result, it gulps in the air directly to the blood to prevent suffocation. As expected, tarpons are huge (thus their popularity in sports fishing). However, the males are smaller than the females. 

Surprisingly, they have tiny, densely-packed teeth despite their large size. These teeth are all over the mouth, covering the tongue and jaw. These teeth shouldn’t worry you, though. A tarpon’s bite cannot hurt you. 

Fun Fact: In 2003, Max Domecq caught a 286-pound 9 ounces tarpon, setting the all-tackle world record. 

What Does Tarpon Eat? 

Juvenile tarpon is planktivorous, meaning they feed on zooplankton, but adults are strictly carnivorous. However, don’t be surprised to see young fish feeding on insects and small fish from time to time. Adults, on the other hand, hunt small mid-water fish, like sardines and anchovies. 

They also love to feed on the following:

  • Shrimp
  • Crabs
  • Larger crustaceans 
  • Dead fish 
  • Squid 

Fun Fact: Tarpon fish swallow their prey whole since they cannot chew due to their villi-like teeth. 

How Does Tarpon Reproduce

Female giant tarpon lays about 12 million eggs. Reproduction occurs when female tarpons release the eggs and sperm into the water through broadcast spawning. Once fertilization occurs, the eggs float to the water’s surface and look like transparent ribbons. This appearance is convenient for keeping predators away from the eggs. 

This fish species only spawns offshore in secluded and warm areas. So, if you’re interested in seeing this, visit their habitats in late spring to late summer on a full moon.


When Is Tarpon Season? 

You can catch tarpons all year round, but the best time for tarpon fishing in Florida is April through June. At this time, the water temperatures are 75 degrees Fahrenheit and above. 

Is Tarpon Safe to Eat

Tarpons are edible. However, they are rare fish on restaurant menus or stores. Also, the fish is on the bony side, which many fish-eaters dislike. 

Can You Keep a Tarpon if You Catch It?

You can keep one fish for state or world trophies. Still, you must pay $50 per fish per tag. 

However, the most preferred method of fishing tarpon is catch and release due to its vulnerable conservation status.

How to Hook a Tarpon? 

Tarpon fish resilience and their bony mouths make them difficult to hook. Still, the best hooking trick is sharpening the 5/0 hooks to allow the point to stick. Lures like jigs and spoons also help catch tarpons. Finally, it would help if you also used live bait like crabs, mullets, shrimp, and pinfish.

The Silver King 

Tarpons are well-loved gamefish because their stamina makes sportfishing more challenging. 

So, consider going tarpon fishing the next time you’re in Florida. Ensure your hooks are sharp and your trip falls between April and June. Happy tarpon fishing!