Tarpon are one of the most popular big-game catches in the world due to their close proximity to the shoreline. They can be taken from piers, docks, roadsides, causeways, bridges, bays, rivers, beaches, passes and jetties. They are fished for from kayaks, canoes, rowboats, jon boats and jet skis to skiffs and million-dollar yachts.
In the 1980s it was estimated that Florida anglers were intentionally killing 5,000 to 8,000 tarpon annually. During the 1988 legislative session, state lawmakers passed a permitting system that requires anglers to have a $50 tag to possess or harvest a tarpon. In 1989, the state recorded the sale of 963 tarpon tags, and by the fiscal year of 2006-07 the number of tags sold fell to 294.
A decade after that session, tarpon records began to shatter along the Gulf Coast. In 2001, Steve Kilpatrick guided Jim Holland Jr. to a 202.5-pound tarpon that toppled a 19-year flyrod record of 188 pounds and is the first recorded tarpon of more than 200 pounds taken on fly. In 2005, Kenny Hyatt guided Terry Sopher to a 216-pound tarpon that is recognized as the largest ever taken during a Boca Grande Pass tournament. In 2007, Ernie Rubio guided Al Willis to a 233-pounder that is holding as the largest tarpon taken in the 73-year-old Suncoast Tarpon Roundup. Remarkably, Willis' fish edged out Tim Deacon's 222-pounder for the win.
Today, tarpon fever has spread with unprecedented speed and efficiency. While much has been promoted about catch-and-release tarpon fishing, little has been done in the area of etiquette.
Multiple boats fishing small areas or individual schools of fish is a common scenario. The proper thing to do in this case is called "leap frogging," and it is the only way multiple boats can productively share pods of fish.
Always stay outside and ahead of the fish. Allow the fish to come to you and never put yourself between a boat that is drifting to or waiting for the fish to come to them. Determine your drift or the direction of the fish movement, then take your shots. Allow the fish to pass you and remain as quiet as possible in order to not disturb the fish for the next boat in line. When the pass is completed, go outside the boats in line and reposition yourself for your next turn. If the fish approach anchored boats not in the leapfrog line, treat those boats as if they are in the line and allow them their turn at the passing fish.