Tarpon fishing is an incredible sport, but you need to make sure you are following the rules to protect this important species. Above all, you should understand that tarpon, unless under specific conditions, are catch-and-release only.
Tarpon Fishing: What are the Rules?
The rules for tarpon vary, and each state gets to decide its own specific rules for tarpon fishing. However, most states do not allow anglers to keep tarpon unless under specific and highly regulated circumstances.
In Florida, tarpon is a catch-and-release species only. Anglers are not allowed to keep tarpon of any size. However, anglers can purchase a tag that allows them to take tarpon that may be a Florida, national, or state record.
According to the laws of Florida, as well as Gulf states like Alabama and Texas, tarpon are sport fish only. For the vast majority of anglers, this is just fine, as tarpon are not a desirable table fish but a highly desirable sport fish.
But it’s not just the fact that you can’t keep a tarpon. In Florida and other states, you can’t even lift a tarpon of a certain size out of the water. When fishing off the coast of Florida, any tarpon over 40 inches in length must be kept in the water. This is because lifting a heavier fish could cause injury.
Tarpon Fishing Etiquette, Manners, and Responsible Behavior
Just like in life, there are rules, and there is etiquette. There are things you should do because it’s the law (like releasing all tarpon) and there are things you should do because it’s the right thing to do.
Tarpon fishing is full of etiquette and ethics, largely because this is such as sensitive fish. The biggest danger to tarpon, at least right after they are released, are sharks. Sharks prey on stunned, wounded, and weakened tarpon, and they have learned to stay near boats and attack tarpon when released. If you notice numerous sharks roaming the area, it’s best to fish at another spot, even if it offers less productive tarpon fishing.
When tarpon fishing, always use strong tackle. Lighter tackle may present a challenge, but it prolongs the struggle with tarpon, weakening them to exhaustion. This makes them more susceptible to injury or death after they are released.
Regulations allow you to lift fish under 40 inches out of the water. (Above 40 inches and have to leave it on the water.) However, to protect the fish you may want to leave it in the water entirely. But if you do lift it from the water (which is legal), you should support the fish underneath its belly, using two hands to hold it horizontally. Don’t lift it entirely by the mouth and hold it vertically, as this can severely harm the fish.
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