An angler’s first duel with The Silver King often haunts them–the challenge, power, and aerial delights are nothing short of lightning in a bottle. For decades, saltwater fishermen have committed their angling careers to the pursuit of the champion of the flats, viewing Megalops Atlanticus as the be-all-end-all of fishing targets.
Yellow Dog works with several of the world’s finest lodges committed to pursuing tarpon–ranging from laid-up fish in the Yucatan mangroves, behemoths in the Costa Rican jungle, and cruising giants over white-sand flats in Cuba.
Each location, in no particular order below, comes with its own unique personality, culture, and approach for one of fly fishing’s most prized species.
The small Latin country of Belize is home to all of the “big three” of saltwater angling and an abundance of resident tarpon. Yellow Dog’s first destination, we have long considered Belize to be a home away from home. The country offers several distinct options, including remote islands, bustling towns, and quiet mainland retreats.
The variety in Belize makes it a fantastic destination for both experienced and beginner tarpon anglers. On the mainland of Belize, anglers can choose from several well-positioned lodges to take advantage of the resident juveniles. Fish in the five to twenty-pound range are common here and ideal for anyone looking to gain experience in wrangling tarpon. These lodges are highly accessible, do not require additional flights, and are a short drive from the Belize City Airport.
Ambergris Caye, a short flight or ferry ride to the east of Belize City, is home to some of the best sight fishing for tarpon in Belize, with fish regularly caught in the forty to the sixty-pound range. These fish require angling accuracy and are targeted along mangrove shorelines or across sand and turtle grass flats.
Ambergris has long been heralded as one of the finest destinations for both accommodations, culture, and a plethora of saltwater fly fishing options. This is an excellent choice for anglers traveling with family or non-angling friends, as there is a wealth of options for them to enjoy in a true tropical paradise.
For anglers looking for a quieter, more personal experience, Yellow Dog works with various operations on isolated islands and mobile motherships. These programs are also fantastic for groups of anglers or anglers traveling with family, depending on your chosen location.
Southern Belize, in the Hopkins and Placencia region, does offer opportunities for tarpon in the right conditions. These fisheries are best-geared toward permit anglers due to the abundance of shallow, hard-bottomed flats. However, the mangrove estuaries inland and some of the nearby cayes offer both small and large tarpon in the right conditions.
2. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the most overlooked fisheries anywhere, with massive, bait-busting roosterfish on the Pacific coast and stellar tarpon fishing on its eastern coast. A wild jungle paradise, Costa Rica’s tarpon should be high on your list.
Costa Rican tarpon can be found in various settings, starting with fishing at Jungle Tarpon Reserve. Jungle Tarpon Reserve includes a vast inland system of freshwater rivers, creeks, and flooded lagoons prime for tarpon in late summer into fall after Costa Rica’s rainy season. Some of the largest tarpon on offer can be seen rolling within the river systems, granting anglers shots at fish in the 150+ pound range in a stunning jungle backdrop.
Silver King Lodge is stationed at the mouth of the Rio Colorado, the most productive year-round tarpon fishery in The Caribbean. A combination of the abundant freshwater from the Rio Colorado and the plethora of bait found in the Caribbean Sea make this an attractive location for massive tarpon. Conditions here are turbulent and exciting, best suited for anglers enticed by adventure and big fish.
A final option is the Rio Colorado Tarpon Camp. Depending on the season, anglers can target tarpon in jungle conditions, in deeper water offshore, or rolling fish in the Rio Colorado’s lagoons.
During the rainy months, anglers can expect to fish with heavy, sinking lines or target tarpon on the surface of the Rio Colorado when conditions are calm.
The island country of Cuba is, without a doubt, one of the best places in the world to target large, migratory tarpon. A short flight from Miami, the country offers exceptional fishing, a remarkably unique culture, and fantastic accommodations.
Both juvenile and migratory tarpon are ample fun for anglers, but there is something distinctly special about targeting those massive cruisers. Cuba maintains a healthy migration of large tarpon yearly, receiving far less pressure over the past fifty years than its nearby counterpart in the Florida Keys.
While these fish are no easier to land than those found elsewhere, they see far fewer skiffs and flies due to Cuba’s strict guidelines on preserving one of its most prized assets.
Jardine de la Reina is perhaps Cuba’s most productive tarpon fishery, with a few mothership options available. Guests can expect productive fishing from the comfort of yachts designed specifically to keep anglers comfortable, well-fed, and on the water as much as they desire.
In addition to tarpon, Cuban bonefish and permit are abundant and offer a fantastic alternative to fill the day if the tarpon aren’t cooperating.
Mexico is one of the most consistent tarpon fisheries found anywhere, with juvenile tarpon in northern Yucatan and larger resident fish in the south. For good reason, some of the best lodges and guides in the world of saltwater fishing are based in Mexico, as fewer places continue to deliver the highest standards in fly fishing. If a grand slam (or super slam) is on your bucket list, Mexico should be one of the primary destinations to make it happen.
Yellow Dog works with several lodges in the northern Yucatan, a juvenile tarpon fishery of epic proportions. The cities of Tabasco and Campeche are synonymous with excellent juvenile tarpon fishing, with anglers regularly jumping dozens of fish in a single outing.
In what feels like a seemingly endless network of mangroves and lagoons, sight fishing here is a phenomenal experience. Juvenile tarpon are generally less wary than their older companions, so we recommend novice anglers start here.
The key in a mangrove habitat is to deliver the fly as close to the mangroves and tarpon as you can without snagging a mangrove–a task that will make a better angler out of you in a short time!
Further south in the famed Ascension Bay and down to Xcalak, resident tarpon are larger and fond of a well-placed fly. While the cruising migratory fish of Florida often pass up flies cast their way, the fish here are often less picky. Don’t let that fool you! Tarpon everywhere requires angling prowess and a bit of luck to keep them buckled.
Don’t forget–bow to the king!
Special Mentions:The Bahamas is generally better known as one of the world’s finest bonefish destinations, with tarpon opportunities a bonus. With that said, there are still some chances to do battle with both resident and migrating tarpon, depending on the time of year.
The western portion of Andros is known to offer shots at both medium and large resident tarpon during the warmer months. The fish are attracted to the abundance of freshwater pouring out from the awe-inspiring and truly magical blue holes dotting the waters of Andros.
Grand Bahama offers the occasional shot at tarpon during the warmer months in addition to permit. Aside from Andros, Grand Bahama is one of the few Bahamian islands where a grand slam is a real possibility when conditions are favorable.
Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas does offer anglers the opportunity to fish for tarpon after chasing down bonefish and permit. Consistently warmer water here is favorable for a multi-species outing, as well as receiving low angling pressure compared to other Bahamian islands.
The tarpon of the African nation of Gabon are some of the largest in the world. Fish in the triple digits are common, with anglers occasionally landing fish in the two-hundred-pound range. This is one of the most untapped, adventurous fishing locations on the planet and comes with the opportunity for the tarpon of a lifetime. If you’re interested in Gabon, contact us to explore options.
A renowned, well-known, and highly accessible fishery, Florida receives a lot of angling pressure, with both fly and conventional anglers targeting these fish annually. But we would be remiss if we did not take the time to mention one of the world’s finest tarpon destinations. The Gulf side, the Everglades, and the Florida Keys offer reliable opportunities for tarpon. Year after year, tarpon-hungry anglers travel to Florida to target migrating fish and search for cruising and laid-up fish throughout the state.
If you are interested in gearing up for a destination trip to target the king of saltwater fly fishing, contact us for more information. Yellow Dog is staffed by the industry’s finest experts in fly fishing travel, ensuring you arrive at the best destination based on angling desires, experience, rates, accommodations, and travel requirements. If you haven’t yet felt the pull of tarpon or watched it eclipse the surface and thrash through the air, we recommend you do so sooner than later—it is an experience that keeps us all coming back for more.
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