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The Best Natural Baits for Tarpon

The frustration of rolling a Tarpon behind the boat is a feeling all too familiar to many Florida anglers. Although many a tarpon have been caught using artificial lures and flies, natural bait, particularly live, is the most effective method for catching tarpon, especially on the days they’re just not biting.

Natural baits for catching tarpon. Common baits for Florida saltwater fishing.

Tarpon are opportunistic feeders, meaning they’ll eat just about anything they can find that looks appetizing. Dietary studies have shown that tarpon feed primarily on fish – anchovies, mullet, herring, menhaden etc., and also on crabs. The following is a list of the best natural baits for tarpon and how to use them.

Threadfin Herring

Large and shiny, the threadfin herring is one of the most lively fish you can put on a hook, and also grow fairly large – an important aspect of tarpon fishing. Herring can be caught using a Sabiki rig over artificial or natural reefs, or other structures including inlets.

Herring for tarpon fishing.
A threadfin herring is excellent tarpon bait.

Sardines

Big sardines, either Scaled or Spanish, work very well for tarpon, but may not always get the biggest fish in the school. Sardines can be found along the beaches, artificial reefs, and inshore structures. Sardines can be particularly effective when fishing murkier waters when that extra shine can make them more visible than other baits

Tarpon sardine bait. A livewell full of scaled sardine will go a long
way in catching Silver Kings.

Mullet

Mullet, especially live, is one of the best tarpon baits. On the Atlantic coast, tarpon follow the annual mullet run each fall as the fish move south, making big mullet available on the beaches and inshore. On the Gulf coast, mullet seem to be more stationary and can be found in good numbers year round.

Menhaden

You may see a pattern here, but Menhaden work very well for tarpon because they are (1) big and (2) shiny. Menhaden can be caught using a cast net in the estuaries and lagoons, more so in the northern Florida counties on both coasts.

Live menhaden bait. A Menhaden, plus some Menhaden gel from Pro-Cure is a strong Tarpon bait.

Blue Crabs

Blue crabs are irresistible to hungry tarpon, and are both easy to find and easy to hook. When tarpon move into the estuaries in the late summer and throughout fall, they feed quite heavily on the juvenile crabs that were spawned earlier in the year. Removing both claws by twisting them off seems to produce more strikes.

Tarpon blue crab bait.

More baits that Will Catch Tarpon

If you can find a fish that is fairly large, shiny, and active on the end of a hook, chances are a 100-plus-pound tarpon will find it appetizing. Many other fish out there exist that may fit this role, and are definitely worth a shot if you happen to find them, including Blue runners and Mojarras.

The Online Fisherman

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