Best Way To Go Tarpon Fishing In Key West

Tarpon Jumping

Tarpon fishing is becoming more popular year after year here. We get calls daily asking us, What is the best way to go tarpon fishing in Key West? Here is a guide that I wrote for prospecting clients using my experience as a Key West tarpon fishing guide since 1994.
Any questions do not hesitate to call my office and speak to my wife – Island Genn. 1-305-292-7212

Any questions do not hesitate to call my office and speak to my wife
Island Genn. 1-305-292-7212

Table of Contents

Best Way To Go Tarpon Fishing

The first thing we need to determine is how would you like to catch your tarpon? Would the angler like to use fly fishing rods and reels or is spin fishing with artificial or live bait the ticket to get them happy? Those might be the two most important basic questions that should be asked. Secondarily maybe asking how many anglers would like to go on one boat to go live the dream catching the silver king? Then Third and somewhat more important for some anglers might be where you would like to catch or go fishing for tarpon here in Key West. So, Lets explore all of these options.

Tarpon: AKA “Silver King”, “Poon”

A large silvery elongate bony fish (Megalops atlanticus of the family Elopidae) that occurs especially in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and warm coastal waters of the Atlantic, reaches a length of about six feet (two meters), and is often caught for sport.
– Miriam Websters

Tarpon
A good fishing guide will help his angler hold a nice size tarpon for the photo without killing it.

Spin Fishing

Spin fishing for tarpon is without doubt the most popular way to fish for the Silver King here in Key West. Mostly because more people are comfortable with spin fishing gear than they are with fly rods, But also due to the year round ease and accessibility of tarpon with this type of gear and the visiting anglers desire to pursue them as a sport fish. 

We start fishing for tarpon using spinning rod steadily in Late February and early March. See our Key West fishing calendar. That time of the year Tarpon Are usually a little deeper and the water is a bit turned up then, so fishing the channels and edges with live bait or artificial lures is more popular to catch early season tarpon.  As the fishing calendar year goes on the water gets calmer, clearer and the tarpon get shallower and a bit more sensitive. In my opinion more interesting as they tend to be a bit more “sporty” and sight fishing for them is much more common with the conditions. 

Across the board Backcountry fishing charters on board a 22-25 ft bay boat is the best and most popular solution for spin fishing for tarpon year round. Shallow or deep, around bridges or edges of channels and for many of the reasons below. Backcountry fishing is typically done on a bay boat. With the new technology making bay boats lighter and shallower, equipped with certain accessories that make them fishing machines and not weather affected as their flats skiff counterparts. Bay boats are hard to beat for spin fishing for tarpon here in Key West for the larger portion of anglers. Take a look at my Yellowfin Carbon Fiber Elite Bay Boat that I use for tarpon fishing here in Key West. 

Check Out My Key West Tarpon Fishing report
 The Key West Fishing Report

Tarpon Fishing Video

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is a very special way to go sport fishing for tarpon. In my opinion at it’s higher levels there is more to it than just the catch. It’s about the whole adventure and the relationship with the fishing guide, the outdoors, the tarpon and the equipment. Though the years I have seen colleagues and clients get extremely passionate about the next level of this sport. Always fine tuning and looking for the next big thrill. They all have one thing in common. A load of time on the bow of a boat in front of tarpon to hone their skills. 

Thats not to say a visiting angler will not have a chance to catch a tarpon on the fly. Its all about how they set up their trip experience. Skill levels and number of persons will dictate the needs for each experience. This is something that only the angler can determine and convey to us as to help them chose the right path and have a happy experience fly fishing for tarpon in Key West.  There are so many levels of skill in fly fishing this lends itself to a potentially lengthy discussion of what trip is best for a prospecting angler. So, I will keep it simple.. The two feasible options a fly fishing angler that wishes to pursue tarpon is really based on the type of boats used. 

Fly Fishing Skill Levels

During the migration many of our anglers wish to target tarpon using a fly rod. These are pretty tough fish to catch on fly so let’s talk about skill level. In order for anglers to be successful in fly fishing for tarpon they must be pretty proficient with a fly rod. There are few things a fly fishing guide can do to Help an angler along with their cast when the fish are right there and ready to eat. A base line for fly fishing for tarpon would be a strong ability for line control, line speed and distance. Line speed and distance is achieved by the double haul technique in the cast, without it, one might be wasting their time and money, if the goal is to have a tarpon eat the fly.

Captains NoteAlthough we will take 3 persons fly fishing for tarpon on our bay boats, we never recommend it. Things get complicated with that many people on a boat with a fly causing by at 200 miles per hour. One off cast and it can be painful. 

Fly / Spin Combo Tarpon Trips

Fly Fishing / Spin Fishing Combo trips are a whole other subject. We always recommend a bay boat backcountry fishing charter for this type of trip. plenty of room for both types of fishing equipment and loads of room on the casting deck. Most folks that want to have both are either unsure about their casting ability or trying to appease other anglers in their party.. Either way.. Bay Boat is your best bet across the board.

The Different Types of Tarpon Fishing

Here in the Keys tarpon can be found just about anywhere there is slightly salt water and food source. Some of the more particular anglers like to fish for them in specific areas that promotes their idea of the best day. For the sake of confusion I will stick to the places that tarpon fishing charters will fish for them and maybe shed some further light on how to choose the right one for you. 

Flats Fishing For Tarpon

Let’s start off with the flats. Flats fishing for migrating tarpon is very popular in May, June and sometimes into July. a huge time of the year for our fly fishing on board the traditional flats fishing skiff or bay boat.  Reproduction behavioral patterns such as daisy chaining can be seen here along with long strings of fish numbering sometimes in the hundreds slowing making their way down the edges of the flats. 

Baby Tarpon

We call them babies, but… They range in size from 10 – 30 lbs. On our backcountry fishing and flats fishing charters we guide folks to our “babies” spots where we have groups of smaller fish that are just hanging out. They eat a fly or light artificial lure really well. Baby tarpon fishing has been an extremely popular way to fish for tarpon for years and best in the late Summer and fall months. o.

Backcountry And Channels

The most popular tarpon fishing charter in Key West. Tarpon start to push into the channels and the backcountry waters early in the year. These can be larger fish that eat live bait well and don’t mind a bit of stirred up or cooler waters. We see these tarpon sometimes as early as late January and mid February depending on how cold the winter was for us. The backcountry channels are all in between the flats. Easily navigated while fishing in a bay boat with a trolling motor with live bait. When the migration starts these fish are also targeted on fly fishing gear. Bay boats and flats fishing boats are the best solution for this. 

Harbor And Bridges

Tarpon love the harbors and bridges but in most cases so do waves, ripping current and tough conditions. These large hearty tarpon eat well up and down the Florida Keys bridges and in Key West harbor. This fishery gets good in the spring through June. Bay boats with super strong trolling motors do well here and center consoles would be my second choice for comfort and a traditional way to fish the consistently harsher conditions. Can be bouncy to the norm but some spectacular rare days can be smooth calm and easy to fish in a flats skiff. 

Tarpon Fishing Boats

Here in Key West we use three different types of boats when fishing for tarpon. Bay Boats which are 22-24 ft in length and flats fishing boats that are 16- 18 ft in length. Center console fishing boats that are up to 36 ft in length. All have their pros and cons. It boils down to the casters experience, physical ability and then the number of persons that are requesting to be on the trip. 

Flats Fishing Skiff

Traditional flats fishing boats or technical skiffs are the most preferred vehicle for 1 or 2  experienced casters that know the game and can coordinate casting with the fishing guides commands. Flats fishing boats can be tippy and tarpon are not always in the calmer waters so we recommend asking if there is a casting platform or stabilizer stanchion for a crutch to help balance if that may be an issue. My flats fishing skiff is a Beavertail Elite 17ft.

As a flats fishing guide there are few things more fun that fishing on my flats fishing skiff with a skilled salt water fly fisherman. An angler that can make a strong 40- 60ft cast with 12 – 24 inches of accuracy in 2 false casts without touching the water with fly line or fly until the presentation is made. Making our way through the day with shots at tarpon and hopefully a good eat or three. 

Flats Fishing Boat:
AKA “Flats Skiff” “Technical Poling Skiff”

16 – 18 ft in length. Poling platform for the fishing guide to stand on for height advantage in spotting fish. Proportionally large casting deck. Can float in less than 10″ of water loaded with 2 anglers and fishing guide. Propelled by push pole when on the flats or shallows. Can be tippy. A traditional boat to use for shallow flats fishing in Key West. 

beavertail elite deck area
Lots of deck area on my Beavertail Elite flats fishing skiff.

Bay Boat

The majority of our tarpon fishing anglers enjoy the use of our technical bay boats. Trolling motors make a world of difference when getting on the fish. Incorporated with Power Poles to keep us in place at the desired angles for our casters the bay boats are the most effective way to get more shots at all versions of tarpon mentioned here on a very stable casting deck.

My personal bay boat is a Yellowfin 24 Carbon Elite. Specifically designed to be shallow, light and extremely maneuverable. Great ride for 4 anglers or less and shallow enough to fish for bonefish. Quite possibly the Ultimate Key West fishing boat. 

Center Console

Tradition often outweighs logic but in some cases tradition is logical. Center consoles for tarpon fishing can be that exception. Center consoles range in size from 26- 35 ft in length with loads of room and amenities. A great tarpon fishing platform for 4 or more anglers and arguably the best platform for sheer numbers when the tarpon are pushing through in the droves as they do most every May. The advantages are, comfort ride, the only option for 5 or 6 or anglers, heavier tackle and versatile options of heading offshore after tarpon fishing. Cons would be anchoring every stop, chumming and dead baiting for tarpon, most expensive option. 

Booking A Tarpon Fishing Charter

Swing a stick in Key West and you will hit a self professed tarpon fishing charter guide. Rolling the dice with a day of your fishing vacation is not super smart. Do some research and find a good fishing guide. Look around on the internet and contact someone that will answer the phone! Talk to them just like in the old days.. 

I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH —- 

  • DO NOT book a private fishing charter without speaking to someone. Be it the guide themselves or a representative of that fishing guide or charter.
  • Its a bad idea to book online for a private charter without speaking to someone. That can be like a box of chocolates… You never know what or who your gonna get.
    • Book directly on the phone with the fishing guide, a booking service or someone that answers the fishing guides phones.
      • Remember, fishing guides go fishing, we are not always around our phones, Many of us are so busy our wives a booking service or someone hired is answering our calls during the day.
  • ALWAYS get a confirmation of some sort by email or text
    • This should have the following info.
      • Who you are fishing with and emergency number to contact them or someone who cares. 
      • When The date and Length of your charter.
      • Where is the location of departure 
      • Balance Due 
      • Deposit Amount

The Easy Way To Book The Best
Key West Tarpon Fishing Charters

Call “Island Genn” She is my wife. Since 2002 she has been booking my trips and many many other professional fishing guides up and down the Florida Keys and especially Key West. 

She stands behind every single booking and recommendation she provides with a 100% money back guarantee for professionalism. Has the best cancellation policies and books only the best in fishing. 

Office Line 1-305-292-7212
Text 1-786-847-3808

Island Genn, indiana bones and capt. Steven Lamp
Island Genn and I out on my bay boat with our pup Indiana Bones. Genn puts together over 3000 fishing charters per year for me and many other professional fishing guides. She is absolutely the best at making sure her clients get exactly what they are looking for. Check out her web site by clicking on this photo.

Subscribe To My Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More Fishing Reports And Posts