Silver king, tarpon, sabalo – name game
No matter the name, silver king, tarpon or sabalo, it’s the name of the game every year as we head into hurricane season.
As we settle what is shaping up to be a successful tarpon season for Anna Maria Island and Tampa Bay waters, it’s a good time to learn more about these fascinating fish.
There are two varieties of tarpon. Megalops atlanticus, the species caught here, and Megalops cyprinoides, an Indo-Pacific species. Megalops atlanticus is known to inhabit waters on the western Atlantic coast, ranging from Virginia to Brazil, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. On the eastern side of the Atlantic, these fish also are caught around the middle to the southern tip of Africa.
The other variety, Megalops cyprinoides is found along the eastern African coast, throughout southeast Asia, Japan and Australia.
Both species will inhabit fresh and saltwater especially around the mouths of rivers and marshes. What enables tarpon to do this is their use of a swim bladder. The swim bladder allows tarpon to rise to the surface and take gulps of air, making it possible for them to survive in water with relatively low oxygen content.
When tarpon are in the larval stage, they inhabit salt marshes, tidal pools, creeks and rivers. In these areas, the water quality is not tolerable for most other fish, which in turn aids in the survival of juvenile tarpon. As these fish grow toward adulthood, they move to the Gulf of Mexico or the ocean to spawn.
Tarpon can grow to a length of 5-8 feet. Most have a greenish to bluish back with bright silver sides. Often, when these fish breech the surface to take air, you see a bright silver flash as they reflect the sun. The average weight of a full-grown tarpon is 100-120 pounds, although fish up to 280 pounds have been reported.
There are a variety of names attributed to the Megalops atlanticus. Mostly they are referred to as tarpon, although another common name is the silver king. If you are in the Miami area, you might hear them referred to as sabalo, their Spanish name. No matter what you choose to call them, the tarpon remain one of the most sought-after game fish in the world.
Are we not lucky to live in an area with such an abundance of this grand fighting fish?
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing tarpon morning, noon and night around the beaches of Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island. He is averaging up to eight hookups per trip on fish of 100 pounds and bigger. Girle is using live shiners or live crabs to get the silver kings to bite. When rigging for tarpon, Girle uses a 5/0 hook tied to 50- or 60-pound fluorocarbon leader with a main line of 50-pound Power Pro braided line.
Moving offshore, Girle is fishing just inside 30 miles in search of mangrove snapper. Using live shiners for bait, Girle’s charters are reeling in mangoes up to 22 inches. Also in these same areas, Girle is encountering “chicken” dolphin up to 6 pounds and amberjack up to 30 pounds.
Finally, Girle is fishing offshore wrecks with small pass crabs to hook up with some elusive permit. Although permit have been scarce this year, Girle managed to boat one that weighed 28 pounds.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is targeting gator trout in north Sarasota Bay. By fishing the shallow grass flats in the early morning, Johnston is leading his clients to spotted seatrout up to 25 inches. For bait, Johnston is using live shiners free-lined behind the boat.
In the same areas as the trout, Johnston is reeling up keeper-size flounder. Most fish are in the 12- to 15-inch range, although larger fish are being caught, too, he said.
Finally, Johnston is encouraging his clients to target tarpon in the early morning and then catch some trout and flounder on the flats afterwards to bring something home for dinner. “It’s always fun to spend a couple of hours trying to hook a tarpon,” says Johnston, and “afterwards we fish the flats for something to eat.”
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says his recent charters have been all about tarpon. Tarpon are thick all over the beach, passes, bridges, and even the flats, Howard says. His success with tarpon is attributed to an ample supply of chum — dead shiners — thrown out at the back of the boat. Howard’s clients have been able to observe the tarpon chewing his chummers, as well as feeding on their baits.
Howard reports, due to the weak tides, an OK inshore bite. One of his recent charters landed some nice spotted seatrout and took home a nice bag of fish for the dinner table.
Howard suggests fishing close to the passes and mouths of bays for some action on snook and redfish. Shiners and small pinfish will work for bait.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is targeting tarpon around Bean Point as well as off the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. The bite is varying from day to day, but Gross is managing to consistently hook fish every charter. For bait, Gross is carrying a variety of options, including pinfish, crabs, shiners and threadfin herring. Most hookups are in the 80- to 100-pound class, although bigger fish are mixed in.
In the backcountry, Gross is seeing action on catch-and-release snook. Chumming with live shiners gets the snook in a feeding mood, he says, which clients follow with a cast into the feeding-frenzy to hook up. Most fish being caught are in the 20- to 24-inch range, although Gross is managing to catch some whoppers of 36 inches.
For the cooler, Gross’ clients are boating limits of spotted seatrout and a few redfish.
For the trout, Gross is free-lining live shiners on deeper grass flats just outside of Terra Ceia Bay. Most fish are in the 16- to 18-inch range — perfect for the fry pan.
For the reds, Gross is fishing shallower water around mangroves. Again, he’s free-lining baits behind the boat, but for the reds, he’s working up against the mangrove edges. This past week, the reds were averaging 18 to 22 inches with a few larger “bull” reds in the mix.
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