1 Tarpon fishing in the Virgin Islands.Tarpon

West end, Marina Cay, North Sound,Sandy Spit, and Both Great harbors at Peter and Jost are all great places for tarpon at night time. You need to light up the boat brightly and this will attract the silversides in. The silversides attract the tarpon.

Tarpon are a fantastic catch and release sports fish. They will leap out of the water and shake free the hooks of all but the best angler. They are a fish with very good eyesight and therefore are not easy to fool into taking a bait.

My first tarpon in the BVI took me several years to catch, but since learning the secrets I can now snag one or two every time I fish for them.

The tarpon here eat silverside (except in great harbor at Jost Van Dyke where they eat the 3 inch long sprats). The average silverside is less than 2 inches long.

In order to present your silverside in amongst the hundreds of other silverside that the tarpon has to choose from, you need to fish with gear that most would think that you would have no chance of landing such a fine sports fish with. I usually use about 15 pound line, the last couple of feet I double the line so I have 2 x 15 pound line. Then I simply snood a tiny #6 or #8 hook to the end of the double.

Use good quality hooks that have fairly thick steel. Suicide type generally are thickest, The hooks that are red in color are best. Then using either a small net or something like a paster strainer, catch yourself some silverside for bait.
With bright lights on the boat this is an easy task as they will come into the lights and hang around on the surface.
Just use a fast scooping motion from the silversides head towards its tail, as the net hits the water, they spook and swim towards the net before turning away from the net.
You can keep some alive in a bucket of water and it keeps the kids amused. A funny thing is that you can let the kids continue splashing about, catching silverside while you are tarpon fishing. It doesn’t seem to alarm them at all.

Hook the silverside by passing the hook into one eyeball and out the other, this presents them well in the water and they will stay alive on the hook.
Let the bait float down into the water and drift around. If there is little wind I do not use any weight on the line, just let it float around. If its windy a small weight may be needed to stop the line from flying around like a kite.
Use  small split shot crimped to the line say 5 feet above the hook as this will allow the bait to drift around and not look stiff in the water.

Nice Catch!

When you see the tarpon cruising around under the boat in the lights, you will notice them circle around in and out of the light and going through the baitfish slowly and not attempting to catch any. Then out of the blue they will streak through the bait, taking them by surprise, gulping down a mouth full of silverside.

I try to fish my bait about 10 feet deeper than the depth the tarpon are cruising at. The aim is to have the tarpon look down at the bait instead of up at the bait. I think this helps to not let them see the hook.

They feed most heavily when they first show up, straight after dark. Make sure you light up your boat as the sun sets to get things started. It’s a sort of “He with the brightest lights attract the most tarpon” type of thing.

When you get a bite remember that you are only going to lip hook it, don’t go crazy or you will tear it out of its lip.
When he knows he is hooked he is going to take off at a blistering pace, if he is heading away from you into clear water I loosen the drag a bit and let him go. It’s far safer to let him work and tire out away from the danger of the boat and anchor line.

As he takes off you must point the tip of your pole straight up. Watch the line angle, he will be heading to the surface and will leap into the air 5 feet, while shaking his head like crazy. The instant he breaks the surface its imperative that the pole tip is up and that you crank line like crazy. If there is slack in the line for even a millisecond while he is leaping, it will throw the hook.

If you have survived this far, let him keep working while away from the boat to tire him out. Keep an eye on the line angle as he may take a half-dozen leaps out of the water. If he gets slack line on any of his leaps he will throw the hook. When he has tired some (if 10 to 15 minutes hasn’t passed he is not tired yet) start bringing him back in.

They are a magnificent fish so you do not want to gaff or harm him, so you need him to be dead tired before you try to boat him.
When he sees the boat he will probably take off again, but with patience you will bring him back.
Tarpon have extremely tiny teeth. We usually simply put a glove on one hand and try to put 4 fingers into his mouth and thumb under the jaw, then with the not gloved hand, we slip our fingers into its gill opening and simply lift him out of the water.
Remove the hook, get some pictures then slip him back into the water.
I have always been a light gear nut, and tried for 10 years to get a 20 to 1 tarpon catch. I had a good quality bait-caster spooled with 4 pound spider-wire.


I caught dozens and dozens of tarpon on that rig, many into the 70 pound range but the 80 pounder alluded me. I hooked many in that size but with only 4 pound gear the outcome was always the same.
Upon being hooked they would take off and leap a couple of times trying to throw the hook, then they would come back to the boat and continue feeding in the lights like they were not hooked at all.

With such light gear it was not possible to put enough pressure on them to either upset them, to get them to run and tire themselves out, or tire them out with the added strain of swimming with so little resistance against them. One night I had one on for 3 hours before I gave up and snapped him off.

Bottom Fishing!  

Fishing Charters.

Fishing license requirements in the Virgin Islands

Our page on bottom fishing in the Virgin Islands.

Trolling in the Virgin Islands.

Eating your fish in the Virgin Islands.

List of ciguatera risk fish in the Virgin Islands.

If you have any interest in either chartering a yacht and doing some fishing or going on a serious fishing charter then please use our experience to your advantage.


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