One of the most aggressive feeding gamefish is the tarpon. The tarpon inhales bait with a powerful pop both beneath the surface and at the surface. I have had an opportunity to catch tarpon on both live bait and artificial lures. Without question, it is the most exciting strike compared to any inshore gamefish. In addition to the strike, the silver king is a fantastic fighter because of the spectacular leaps. You’ll be more than surprised by the power as the line screams. However, to catch tarpon, you’ll need to know what do tarpon eat?

Anglers Need To Know: What Do Tarpon Eat? 

In order to be successful at catching tarpon, it is essential to know what tarpon eats. Tarpon are aggressive eaters with a big appetite. However, the diet of tarpon is highly dependent on its size. Without question, anglers target everything from juvenile tarpon to those weighing over 200 pounds. Importantly, the diet will vary based on the length and weight of the fish. Here is a breakdown on what tarpon eat. 

Juvenile Tarpons Diet

Anglers fishing in lagoons and backwaters often target juvenile tarpon. Juveniles are significantly smaller than fully grown tarpon, and for this reason, the diet varies. 

Importantly, small tarpon display the same acrobatics as large tarpon when hooked. It is not uncommon for anglers to fly cast for juveniles. 

As far as a juvenile tarpon’s diet is concerned, they consume insects, crustaceans, and small fish. When targeting juveniles, anglers tend to lean towards fly fishing, casting small surface lures, or rigging live finger sized mullet. 

I have thrown all of the above at small tarpon and have found equal success with all three. 

Fully Grown Tarpons Diet

I’ll start off by saying that I have caught fully grown tarpon on a multitude of live and dead baits. Tarpon are often caught by sight casting, which makes the experience all the more fun. 

Some of the best tarpon baits include live crab, small to medium sized mullet, pinfish, chucks of ladyfish, and top water lures. 

Interestingly, tarpon often gathers in small groups. However, I would not go as far as to say they congregate in large schools. No matter if the water is clear or murky, you can watch the silver kings roll at the surface on a frequent basis. 

When it comes to targeting large tarpon again, the options for what to throw at them are broad. It should be noted that they are often finicky therefore, you should keep a full arsenal of options on hand. 

I personally have had a great deal of success catching tarpon on fish skins in marinas. Yes, fish skins. After spending an hour at the fillet table, I hook a piece of fish skin on a circle hook, cast it out, and connect with tarpon. 

The technique above is ideal for marinas but not for open water. I suggest watching the behavior of the tarpon. In the situation where the fish is feeding at the top cast surface, popping lures. Alternatively, free line a live bait such as a mullet or pinfish. Remember, you’ll want to keep the bail open. An open bail will allow the tarpon to suck the bait into its mouth before reeling and setting the hook.

How To Properly Battle A Hooked Tarpon

The tarpon, as mentioned above, is a wild fighter. No matter what the tarpon ate, you’ll want to fight the fish the correct way in order to land the fish. 

When fighting a tarpon, ensure that the fishing reel drag allows the silver king to run or else you will encounter a break off. 

Without a doubt, tarpon jump on a consistent basis. Remember to bow the rod down as the fish leaps into the air. 

In a situation where the tarpon swims towards the boat, reel up all slack to prevent the hook from coming free. 

Never, gaff the fish as it comes alongside. In most states, tarpon must be released. The tarpon is one of the most highly sought after gamefish therefore the population must remain robust. 

Lastly, never hold a tarpon by the lip and let it hang vertically. Holding the fish in this position causes significant injury. Always support the fish by holding the lower jaw and the tail simultaneously. 

Now You Know The Answer To What Do Tarpon Eat

So, what do tarpon eat? Again, the diet is dependent on the size of the fish. However, you have no shortage of options when it comes to targeting small or large tarpon. Remember, you will want to bring along a few options in the event they are finicky. Lastly, setting the hook in a silver king is challenging. Remember to stay patient before reeling after a strike.