Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post covering my 5 best live bait options for Tarpon this year. Tarpon, renowned for their silver bodies and acrobatic displays, are a highly sought-after game fish among anglers. Their size, tenacity, and unique strike make them a thrilling pursuit. One of the most effective techniques for catching these majestic fish is using live bait.
Now I have to admit to being a traditional bait user for most of my fishing life as I like to find a good spot and then see what I can attract. Of course there is maybe not the excitement of attracting and working a fish as there is with lures, however it can be just as much fun for sure.
There are however other aspects to it such as matching the bait to the location and presenting it in a manner that will make it attractive to the fish as well. The thing then is that there are so many different factors to consider that it can all get a bit confusing after a while. So let’s check it all out …
What is Livebait?
For the purposes of this post I am going to give the name live bait to anything that is, or has at some point been alive (often referred to as ‘natural bait’). This means that it can actually be alive (often kept in an aerated cooler for example), fresh but dead or even frozen. This is opposed to lures, which are artificial creations designed to mimic live bait.
Obviously the type you choose will vary based on local conditions however when it comes to using live bait, I would stick to the following two rules:
- Use local bait if possible – Live bait can be found and trapped in estuaries and coastal shallows in all areas that Tarpon inhabit so there can be a variation on what is available to them within their local habitats.
- Go to a local bait shop – In most cases, the local bait shop will sell bait that is good for local conditions. If in doubt, ask the shop keeper or a local.
Now, if I am being honest, in my experience and research there doesn’t really appear to be a bait fish that a Tarpon do not like. And as with other saltwater predators such as Striped Bass, Tarpon will take just about any small fish as well as shrimp, crabs or worms as well.
However, baitfish are generally easier to acquire and hook as opposed to anything else so I have listed the five most popular options for catching Tarpon below.
- You can match exactly to what fish eat naturally
- Generally easy to use
- Often cheaper than lures
- Most fish will take a bait
- You can cast and let the bait sit in the water (i.e. no need to cast and retrieve)
- Bait is great for kids (meaning they can at least catch something)
- It is smelly and gets all over your clothes, tackle box and everything else take with you
- Will deteriorate in the sun
- Fish tend to swallow the hook more with bait (making catch and release more difficult)
- You can lose a lot more to smaller or vermin species
- Bait can come off hook easier in faster moving water
- You need to make more tools with you such as a knife and cutting board
My recommended live bait options for Tarpon
Let’s have a look at the main 5 options I have listed above in more detail:
Mullet ranks as one of the top live baits for Tarpon fishing. Found in abundant numbers in coastal areas where Tarpons inhabit, mullet are a natural part of the their diet, making them irresistible. Two varieties are common: black mullet (or striped mullet) and silver mullet. While both work well, Tarpon seem to favor the silver mullet due to their flashy scales which closely resemble the tarpon’s own shiny exterior.
Catching mullet for bait can be accomplished using a cast net in areas they congregate like estuaries, piers and docks. Once caught, they can be rigged up using a circle hook through the upper lip or top of the head. This hook placement allows the mullet to swim naturally while being sturdy enough to withstand a Tarpon’s powerful strike.
Pinfish are another excellent live bait option for Tarpon. As opportunistic feeders, they won’t pass up the chance to feed on these abundant and easily available fish species. And best of all, Pinfish inhabit the same inshore and nearshore waters as Tarpon, making them a familiar prey item.
They are relatively easy to catch with a small hook and pieces of shrimp or squid. A common rigging method for pinfish is to hook them through the back or nostrils, avoiding the spine. This arrangement allows the pinfish to swim naturally and attract a Tarpon’s attention.
3. Blue Crab
Tarpons have a well-documented affection for blue crabs, especially during the crab’s spawning season. In regions like the Florida Keys, where Tarpon congregate in large numbers, blue crabs often become their primary diet. Thus, using blue crabs as live bait can be incredibly effective.
The ideal size for a tarpon bait is a medium-sized blue crab, about 2.5 to 3 inches. Remove the crab’s claws to prevent it from damaging the Tarpon or affecting the bait’s swimming action. Hook the crab through the corner of the shell or the pointy part of its carapace to ensure it stays lively and attractive to the fish.
4. Threadfin Herring
Threadfin herring, often referred to as greenbacks, are another top-tier Tarpon bait. These fish are particularly abundant in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida’s coastal waters, where tarpon fishing is popular and their slim profile and vibrant, shiny scales make them irresistible to tarpon.
You can catch threadfin herring with a cast net or sabiki rig in areas where they school. Rigging them involves hooking through the nostrils or back, keeping them lively and capable of swimming freely. When a threadfin herring is nervous and darts around, it’s almost like ringing the dinner bell for Tarpon.
While smaller than the other bait options, shrimp are a staple in the Tarpon’s diet, making them a reliable bait option. Larger live shrimp are preferred, but any size can work – dead or alive. Shrimp are especially useful for smaller, juvenile tarpon that inhabit inshore waters and mangrove areas.
You can obtain shrimp from bait shops or catch them using a dip net or cast net. For rigging, hook the shrimp in the tail or the horn (the area right above its head) to keep them alive and kicking, attracting the attention of tarpon in the vicinity.
What should you be looking for?
As you look to source and use your own live bait, below are some things that you may want to consider when using bait for Tarpon:
Where the fish are – We have touched on this above however the type of bait you choose can depend on where you are trying to catch your fish. For example if you are working in shallow waters, then shrimp or mullet would work well. Keep in mind here that unlike lures, you are generally not casting and retrieving a bait so you will need to match your bait to the species that are found in that area.
Weight requirements – Bait weight, usually determined by the size or amount of bait you use, is important for a number of reasons including:
- Heavier baits can be cast a little further – this may include rigging with a sinker.
- Heavier baits will anchor and drag on the bottom more effectively (which is good if you are in a kayak or on a boat).
- Lighter weights are easier to jig and ‘flick’ around.
- Lighter baits will float better than their heavier counterparts – which is where smaller baitfish such as herring can work.
Again, do your research into the environment that you are fishing in. If you are working in shallower waters, then a light weighted bait will work very well. Heaver options may be needed in deeper areas however they will ‘catch’ on the bottom a lot more often and fall off if you are drifting.
Rod specifications – The next consideration (and a very important one) is to ensure that any bait size you use fits within the specification details of your fishing rod. In some cases, rod specs include a tackle weight which is the highest designated weight that the rod can handle.
In most cases, however, you are going to be looking at this from the power rating of the rod. This is effectively a measure of how ‘bendy’ it is. Light power rods bend with little force and heavy ones need a lot of pressure to bend. So, in short:
- Light – very bendy – even whippy – will bend a lot with even the smallest fish. Use these for light baits only.
- Medium – needs a bit more pressure to bend – In general, this is a good measure for all-round use with light to medium-weighted baits for Tarpon fishing.
- Heavy – takes a lot to make it bend – I would probably avoid these for Tarpon fishing unless you are working in particularly deep water.
In general, the main rule of thumb when it comes to using bait is to match your hook to its size. As with most saltwater fishing, I would err on the side of a larger hook as well meaning you will avoid getting caught up with smaller species.
Stick to a 3/0 to 7/0 circle hook with a bait size to match with the hook set through the snout (or head of shrimp) on a running sinker or running float rig.
Local knowledge – As mentioned a number of times in this post, when I discuss live bait options for any fishing type, I always say to check with the locals to see what is found in the local system. The idea behind this is that you want to match your bait to what it is that the fish eat naturally.
And there it is – my post covering the best bait for Tarpon this year. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time