Tarpon are an extremely popular game fish in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
This enormous predator is known and appreciated for its raw strength and insane fights on the rod.
But just how big do tarpon really get?
While the average size of tarpon is between 30 and 60 inches and 30 and 70 pounds, this species can reach an astonishing maximum size of about 8 feet and 350 pounds. Male tarpon are generally smaller than females and rarely exceed weights of 100 pounds.
Keep reading this article to get more interesting facts about the varying sizes of tarpon, the current world record, and where the world’s biggest tarpon can be found and caught.
What Is the Maximum Size of Tarpon?
Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) can reach a maximum size of around 8 feet (90 to 100 inches) and 350 pounds.
Due to its massive size, incredible stamina, and fighting abilities, it is a priced game fish in the United States and the Gulf of Mexico.
Its large size can be explained by the fact that tarpon have a very rich and varied diet, primarily consisting of sardines, pinfish, needlefish, mullets, shrimp, and crabs.
Additionally, they are speedy swimmers, as they can reach top speeds of up to 35 miles an hour, making them even more efficient hunters.
And as this fish species has been around for about 100 million years, it has simply evolved into an enormous predator over time.
DID YOU KNOW: Male tarpon have a maximum size of about 5 to 6 feet and 100lb, which means that basically all tarpon that weigh more than 100 pounds are female.
What Is the Average Size of Tarpon?
Tarpon have an approximate average size of 30 to 60 inches and 30 to 70 pounds.
Average lengths and weights naturally vary, though, and depend on a series of factors that can include:
- water temperature
- oxygen levels
- food abundance
- food competition
- population size
- habitat size
- habitat type (fresh or saltwater)
And so, in optimal conditions, the average tarpon may have a size of 50 to 60 inches and 50 to 70 pounds, while the average size of tarpon living in less favorable conditions may be 30 to 40 inches and 30 to 50 pounds.
Additionally, tarpon tend to feed the most between March and July, meaning they often weigh more during this time of year.
In other words, the average size really just is a broad, average indication!
What Is the Biggest Tarpon Ever Caught?
Considering that this fish species has a maximum size of around 300lb, the current All-Tackle world record comes pretty close to being the perfect tarpon.
The record fish is a behemoth of an unbelievable 286lb 9oz. But that’s not all, as the monster had an insane length of 90 inches and a surreal girth of 50 inches.
Angler Max Domecq caught the huge tarpon while on a fishing vacation in Guniea-Bissau, a small country in West Africa.
This record fish was caught in 2003, and while anglers have caught plenty of giant tarpon between 200 and 250 pounds since then, they have yet to break the world record.
Surely, a 300-pounder must be out there somewhere, though? Time will tell if and when it’ll ever get caught!
What Is the Florida State Record for Tarpon?
The current Florida state record tarpon is the perfect example that there must be quite a few fish out there that could have the potential of getting close to the world record fish.
The biggest tarpon ever caught in Florida waters is a huge specimen of 243lb.
It was caught by angler Gus Bell in Key West back in 1975.
The really curious thing about this catch is that Gus somehow managed to land this beast on a 20lb test mainline.
Since tarpon are extremely powerful and wild fighters, landing it must have required plenty of skill (and perhaps a little luck).
Where Are the Biggest Tarpon in the World Found?
While big tarpon can be found all over the Atlantic, a few places stick out in this regard.
Florida is definitely a renowned destination for big tarpon. Some of the hot spots in the Sunshine State include:
- The Florida Keys (especially Islamorada)
- Miami (especially Government Cut and Biscayne National Park)
- Stuart (especially the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon)
The Gulf of Mexico offers excellent tarpon fishing opportunities as well. Here, you should take a closer look at the waters off Mexico, Costa Rica, and Cuba.
PRO TIP: The small Latin country of Belize is especially worth mentioning when it comes to fishing for monster tarpon!
In the Eastern Atlantic, the entire west coast of Africa offers great fishing for big tarpon.
Countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Congo are popular tarpon destinations that thousands of anglers visit yearly.
All of the destinations mentioned above can be considered regular big tarpon paradises, and if you’re into catching monster fish, you should consider checking them out and visiting.
It could end up being the fishing trip of a lifetime!
How Big Is a Trophy Tarpon?
What anglers will consider a trophy-size tarpon depends on where they are being caught.
Saltwater anglers who target them around the hot spots off Florida may tell you that a trophy tarpon must weigh at least 200lb, while anglers targeting them in other areas of the Atlantic might say that a 100-pound tarpon is a true trophy fish.
Sizes naturally vary, and a fish that’s considered average in one place can be viewed as an absolute monster somewhere else.
If you ask me, a trophy fish is a very personal thing that doesn’t have to follow any set measurements or guidelines.
If you’ve been fishing for tarpon for many years, never managed to catch a fish of more than 50lb, and then one day you hook and land a tarpon of 70 pounds, you may want to call that fish a trophy catch.
And why not, right?
Do Tarpon Grow Bigger in Freshwater or Saltwater?
Tarpon can live in both fresh, brackish, and saltwater, and it is common for them to spend an extended time in river systems connected to the sea.
And while they keep growing while dwelling in freshwater habitats, their growth rate will generally slow.
They grow much faster and bigger in saltwater. This is primarily due to the fact that their ocean habitat is both much larger and offers a lot more food than any river system possibly could.
How Big Do Tarpon Get in Australia?
Did you know that the Atlantic tarpon has a cousin in Australia? The Indo-Pacific tarpon looks like the Atlantic one but is a separate species called Megalops cyprinoides.
This relative to the Atlantic tarpon, commonly referred to as an oxeye herring, is a much smaller tarpon species.
It can reach a maximum size of about 20 to 25 inches and 5 to 7 pounds, although a few rare specimens of close to 30 inches and 8 pounds have been caught in Australia.
The name oxeye herring comes from this tarpon’s resemblance to true herring, and most Aussie anglers will call it by this name.
How Fast Do Tarpon Grow?
Tarpon are fast-growing fish! Compared to other saltwater species, they have an extreme growth rate that isn’t matched by many other types of fish.
Tarpon fry doesn’t even reach a length of one inch, but once the juveniles get a little older, their growth rate practically explodes.
At 6 months, they can already have a length of around 4 inches, and by the time they are 2 years old, they can measure as much as 12 inches.
After that, they commonly grow even faster!
At age 6 or 7, when most tarpon reach sexual maturity, they can measure 45 to 50 inches and weigh 40 to 60lb, which is insane for that age.
At around age 15, they more or less double their weight again. Now weighing 100 or so pounds, these tarpon will have an approximate length of 70 to 75 inches (around 6 feet).
However, once they reach the age of 20, their growth rate starts to slow down considerably.
These adult fish now need around 10 to 15 years to add another 10 to 12 inches and 60 to 100lb to their size.
Based on that growth rate, a 30 to 35-year-old fish would have an approximate size of 7 feet and 160 to 200lb, and a fish of 45 to 50 years would have a size of around 8 feet and 260 to 300lb. Monster alert!
How Old Do Tarpon Get?
Compared to other saltwater fish species, tarpon live a relatively long life.
While their average lifespan is between 15 and 25 years, they can reach an impressive maximum age of at least 50 years.
Male tarpon typically only get to around 30 years, while the really big females can reach 50 years or more.
The oldest tarpon ever recorded was a specimen held in captivity at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago (Illinois).
Unbelievably, this ancient female was 63 years. It died in captivity back in 1998.
While 60+ is an incredible age for this type of fish, no one knows if there aren’t even older wild fish in the vast Atlantic ocean somewhere.
It’s not likely, but nature tends to have a way of surprising us humans. Time will tell, I guess.
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Featured image courtesy of Quick Silver Fishing Charters