A SILVER KING
Tarpon are arguably the greatest gamefish in the
world. They are most prominently known for their
spectacular, gravity-defying leaps, but tarpon also
have the strength to make lightning runs several
hundred yards into your backing. In addition, tarpon
can grow to a very large size; the world record fly
caught tarpon is 202 pounds.
Perhaps most exhilarating is the fact that they often
reside in very shallow water, providing an angler with sight-casting opportunities that can create
an adrenaline rush unparalleled in any other fishing venue. Watching a big tarpon turn 90 degrees and then rise up to inhale a seemingly inconsequential fly offering in three feet of gin-clear water is a memory that will last a lifetime…
Their range can extend up the Atlantic coast to the northeast states and as far south as the lower reaches of Argentina, as well as across the Atlantic to the west coast of Africa. In all of these locations, tarpon have proven a versatile and adaptive fish, inhabiting bays, flats, estuaries and freshwater rivers. A unique feature which allows tarpon to live in diverse environments is its modified swim bladder. This allows the fish to gulp air from the surface, permitting it to live comfortably in oxygen-poor environments such as brackish, mangrove lagoons. When tarpon gulp air, they “roll” onto the water’s surface, displaying their broad, silver sides and revealing their presence in environments where otherwise the angler would not be able to see them.
The tarpon is classified under the genus Megalops, which translates into “large-eyed.” The conspicuous eye of the tarpon can be seemingly stared into when sighted on a clear, calm flat. Tarpon, also commonly called the “silver king,” are layered with distinctively large, bright and silvery scales. When in the water, these fish have more of a greenish hue, often appearing quite dark along their backs. Several other defining characteristics of tarpon include a significantly elongated final ray on its dorsal fin. The maw is scoop shaped, and when opened to inhale prey it resembles a large bucket; the mouth can also prove very difficult in which to set a hook due to the bony plates lining the inside, especially along the upper jaw line.
In their larval and juvenile stages, tarpon survive on zooplankton and insects, eventually expanding their diet to include small fish and crustaceans. Mangrove systems provide a nutrient-rich environment where they are protected from larger predators by the sheltering web of roots. Baby tarpon (up to 30 pounds) are often found cruising amongst the roots of mangrove-lined shorelines and channels. They can prove frustrating targets in these environments and when hooked, launch themselves into the air, sometimes crashing down amongst the branches themselves. A young tarpon can prove to be the most acrobatic fish on the planet. As they mature, they become exclusively carnivores, feeding on large schools of mullet, sardines and many other baitfish.
The tarpon achieves sexual maturity around six years of age at a length typically of three to four feet. They are slow growing fish; tarpon that grow in excess of 100 pounds are usually over 10 years of age, with the females growing larger and living longer than the males. Females can grow to over eight feet in length and live in excess of 50 years. A sexually mature female tarpon can produce an egg count of over 10 million eggs. The spawning migration of the tarpon in the spring and summer is a prime period in which to pursue them, especially in the coastal waters of Florida and many of the inshore flats of Central America. The adult fish migrate into the more shallow waters and flats of estuaries and bays where the larval hatchlings can quickly find shelter along the mangrove shorelines.
Having the opportunity to sight-cast to and hook one of these giants is considered by many the pinnacle of fly fishing.
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