Tarpon Fishing with Live Bait:
Sport Fishing Islamorada Fishing Charters Florida Keys with Captain Rick Killgore

Cell: 305 - 439 - 7317 (800 - 698 - 5773)   &   E-MAIL (Click Here)  rick@fish-killgore.com

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How we fish for Islamorada tarpon,
Why it's better!

Islamorada tarpon fishing is "spectacular." Big tarpon up to +180 lbs. crash live baits on the surface 15 to 50 feet behind the boat. Once hooked, expect a +150 yard run and numerous jumps, so close to the boat your jaw drops. Immediately we chase these tarpon fast, through the bridge pilings - hard left, hard right, hard reverse, maybe a complete 360. So close to the bridge pilings, we just might hit them, you fear! No time for fear - reel, reel, reel! Keep the pressure on: pull left, pull right - keep that tarpon out of the pilings.  Suddenly it jumps, maybe 10' out of the water - bow to the "silver king" with your rod so the tarpon does not throw the hook. Then the tarpon finally clears the bridge and the gauntlet of  barnacle encrusted pilings, now you can slug it out at a normal pace. 

With constant pressure you can release these tarpon in 15 to 30 minutes. How do you think we can catch 10 and 11 fish in a day? I teach you the techniques to beat these tarpon quick. Take your dream photo next to the boat. Then we're off to catch another big, wild, jumping tarpon. We catch these tarpon relatively quickly because we are in about 12 feet of water, close to the tarpon where you can put more direct pressure on it. In contrast to "deep water" tarpon spots, inlets and passes 50 - 80 feet deep, you will fight a tarpon for an hour or two. The tarpon hug the bottom creating a big belly in the line making it impossible to put direct pressure on it.

We crush the tarpon! We caught 328 tarpon in 77 days fishing 2003 season. That's averaging more than 4 tarpon caught per day (4.25 tarpon/ day), and during the heat of the season we averaged almost 6 tarpon per day (5.93 tarpon/ day). Of the tarpon we "caught", we averaged 6 tarpon "hooked-up and on", for 9 tarpon "striking the live baits" per day - that is a lot of action. In the last five seasons our best day was 11 big tarpon released in a day, on two days we caught 10 tarpon, and on seven different days we released 9 tarpon each day. One day we hooked-up 19 tarpon out of having 30 tarpon striking the baits, and we released 7 that day.

“The big tarpon” season is March through August. These are big tarpon, 65% are over 80 lbs. and 34% are over 100 lbs. We catch tarpon up to +180 lbs. each year and don’t catch many under 50 lbs. (90% are over 50 lbs.) Around mid-July the big tarpon, “the spawners,” start to migrate out of the Keys leaving the smaller tarpon behind. We still catch big tarpon of 80 to 100 plus pounders, but the percentages start to fall. We catch more tarpon in the 50 to 70 lbs. range and more tarpon down to 30 pounds. The number of tarpon per day stays about the same.

How do we catch so many tarpon? Because of the live bait I use. I do not buy tired, inferior live bait from the bait trucks or tackle stores, like 95% of the other guides. I use my “live bait” every day, that I catch. This bait bait is not sold. I catch the bait before your trip, not on your fishing time (99% of the time, unless there is bad weather).

While we are tarpon fishing we catch big barracudas up to +30 lbs., and big jacks up to 12 lbs. These are great fun on lures and flies too. We also catch big mangrove snapper up to 6 lbs. and grouper up to 15 lbs. Not only are they a fun, quick fight; they are excellent eating. Most restaurants will cook them for you.   

We are fishing from a comfortable 23' Sea Craft, open fisherman. It has a big canvas T- top (lots of shade) and ample seating (maximum: 6 anglers). It is a stable boat with a dry, comfortable ride, and it can fish any tarpon spot on any wind (where the other skiffs cannot go when it is windy). Ask about the hook-up guaranty.

From September to February, we catch the smaller “nursery tarpon” (15 to 30lbs. and occasionally up to 50 or 70lbs.) all year long, as long as the weather stays mild. This is just about the same action as when the big tarpon are here, and they are great fun on light tackle. 

If a " late season cold front " comes through and puts the tarpon down for a day or two, we have three options for excellent fishing.  First, this is an ideal condition for sailfish fishing 3.5 miles off the Keys. While sailfishing we can catch: blackfin tuna, wahoo, kingfish, cobia, dolphin, mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper,  groupers, and barracudas etc. Second, If it is too choppy for you, we can fish the inside patch reefs in 15 to 50 feet of water. We can either troll for grouper or anchor and chum for snapper (mutton, yellowtail,  mangrove, and hogfish), grouper (black, gag, red, and Nassau), mackerel (Spanish and cero), barracudas, and sharks. Or third, we can go out to the lee side of Florida Bay and fish for big sharks, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, red and gag grouper, and sea trout. These are great options for when a cold front comes through.

  2003 TARPON SEASON: the best season

 328 tarpon released!

We caught them in 77  FULL DAYS OF FISHING. This was done live bait fishing the channels.

We averaged more than 4 tarpon released per FULL DAY of fishing.

This is hot fishing action, lots of strikes and fish jumped off. We averaged 9 tarpon “striking the baits” per day while “hooking and fighting” 6 tarpon a day, then catching 4 tarpon per full day. (1999 was better than this year, but half the season was fly fishing. We averaged just about 5 tarpon released for 9 tarpon “hooked up” for 14 tarpon “striking baits” per day. Check past fish reports for details).


I use fresh, live bait daily (100% of the time). I do not use tired, "delivered or store bought" bait like most of the other guides or fish carcasses.  It is an action packed fishing trip with big tarpon "blasting"  live baits "on the surface" within 50' of the boat (sometimes 10' away).

We are fishing from a comfortable 23' Sea Craft, open fisherman. It has a big canvas t-top (lots of shade) and ample seating (maximum: 6 anglers). It is stable boat with a dry, comfortable ride, and it can fish any tarpon spot on any wind (where the other skiffs cannot go when it is windy). Ask about the hook-up guaranty.

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Sixteen Fishing Seasons, 2014  (1)

Around "3,100" Tarpon Released


11 tarpon released by the Lad Farian Gang (2004 Fishing Report)

After 2006, the First Eight Tarpon Fishing Seasons

1,641 tarpon released in 567 full days of fishing

That's an average of  almost 3 tarpon released per full day of fishing. 

(All catches are verified by the anglers signing the fishing log, and many catches are reported in past
"All Islamorada Florida Keys Fishing Reports."

This is HOT FISHING ACTION: lots of strikes, fish on and jumped off.

The typical year we average 6.2 tarpon on and 9.3 tarpon strikes per full day.

WE CAUGHT A LOT OF TARPON (stopped tracking 2006):

11 Tarpon released in 1 day (Lad Farian Gang, 2004 Fishing Report)

10 Tarpon released in a day: on 2 different days

9 Tarpon released in a day: on 8 different days

8 Tarpon released in a day: on 14 different days

7 Tarpon released in a day: on 21 different days

6 Tarpon released in a day: on 27 different days

An Incredible Day: hooking-up 19 tarpon out of 30 tarpon "striking the baits", and releasing 7 tarpon that day.

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THESE ARE BIG TARPON: Check out the percentages

Tarpon over 80 pounds:  61 % of the catch.

Tarpon over 100 pounds: 40 % of the catch.

Tarpon over 120 pounds:  15 % of the catch.

Tarpon over 140 pounds:  6 % of the catch.

Tarpon over 50 pounds:  92.5 % of the catch.

(1) (In 2006 we had totaled 1,641 tarpon released in 8 seasons. That is an average of 205 tarpon per season. Keeping and analyzing this data is very time consuming. The past seasonal tarpon results, all posted in the  "Fishing Reports,"  document what tarpon fishing is like with me. So I have decided to "stop" keeping detailed tarpon fishing data, and I'm no longer doing the season results.)

This lady angler's first tarpon (est. 80 pounds) up on the bow of my 23' SeaCraft I just finished rebuilding.


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10 tarpon released

Michael Cassidy, from "Field and Stream", and his friend Tim Cliggott, hunting guide from Texas "smoked 'em"  that day.

We even had to leave early (2:15pm) so they could catch a plane.

They had four tarpon weighing between 80 lbs. to 100 lbs., four at 60 to 70 lbs., and two at 40 to 50 lbs.


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13 tarpon in two days and only one was under 100 lbs.; 

That is what "Bill Bud" Reynolds and Julie Santilli caught on their 2 day trip. "Bill Bud" is shadowed by this + 120 lbs. tarpon. Julie stands next to her + 90 lbs. tarpon

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Julie fights another one of her 4 tarpon she caught the first day.

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5 tarpon, for 8 on, and 8 strikes, that is what Rosetta Servideo and Brian Hassel released one day. 

Big Brian Hassel stands in front of his 145 lbs. tarpon. It’s deceiving. Compare it to me while I lift only half of it.

 Rose released this 130 lbs. tarpon.


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8 tarpon caught, for 17 on, for 24 strikes; done in one full day combined  with a sunset trip.

Ryan Eidelstein (14 ˝ years old) had a heroic battle with a 140 lbs. tarpon on #20 spin which lasted 1 ˝ hours mostly because there was a good fray in the line near the double line. We wanted that picture and fish measurements. Even after the long fight, the fish revived quickly and swam off.

Matt and Ryan Eidelstein along with their father Gary released these tarpon. Gary insisted the boys catch all but one of the tarpon, which his weighed +85 lbs.


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Five tarpon in one day, all between 140 lbs. and 100 lbs.

Bob Shubert releases a +100 lbs. tarpon he caught on #20 test Spin.

My former best friend, now my ex-brother-in-law, Rick, shows his 110 lbs. tarpon. We caught 4 tarpon for 9 on for 11 striking tarpon. 


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Mitch Lackey fights a big tarpon close to the boat.

Mitch had a great afternoon trip, catching 4 out of 6 tarpon on (100lbs., 80lbs., 60 lbs., and 60lbs.).

But the next day he was hurting, after a night at the TIKI BAR. He caught 2 out of 9 tarpon on, and was pissed!

Don't celebrate untill the "fat lady sings" !!!


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My little nephews get a close look at my sister's big tarpon before I release it.

My sister, Beth, catches a nice tarpon. My little nephews partake in the thrill of the battle. I life long impression, check out the "art by kids gallery".


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Mom, Dad, and I catch 5 tarpon, for 6 on, for 8 strikes on my birthday.

Dad whips a nice one quickly. He can still wield that #30 test effortlessly, even though all he does now is fly fish for bones.  After catching hundreds of billfish, you never lose it.


Mom puts the wood to that tarpon.  A great angler, she has caught around 60 sailfish, numerous bonefish, countless dolphin, along with many other fish over the years.

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4 tarpon caught, for 8 on, and 16 strikes, that is what  Rick Colberson and his son, Matt, did one day.

Young Matt is thrilled by his +100 lbs. tarpon.

Rick caught one at around 140 lbs., but we could not get a photo of it.

5 tarpon, for 8 on, and 8 strikes, that is what  Brian Hassel and Rosetta Servideo released one day.

Another big tarpon for Brian that day.



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Dr. David Wingfield stands next to his big +160-lbs. (est.) tarpon on #30-lbs. test.

This fish made some "bad to the bone" jumps and a tough fight through rough water. This fish measured out to be 153-lbs. on the "fish weight formula", but I think it was heavier because of its girth back to the anal fin. I have caught 112 blue marlin for clients, and I have been good at judging weights of big fish back at the dock in the past.

Jeff Wingfield standing with his tarpon of 110-lbs. (est.), which he caught the same night his brother caught the giant tarpon.



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Joe Culler really likes feeding the tarpon before he finally wants to catch one.  It took some "strong encouragement" from  Jim Obinour and I to get Joe to hook this 120 lbs. tarpon. Joe may have thought he had a rubber hook for awhile.

Michael Cassidy catches 80 pounder during a quick trip out before we get chased back to the dock by heavey rain squalls.


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Tony Carter catches a near monster tarpon. This fish I estimated at about 140 lbs. Drew Wertheimer stands next to his Dad's, Jay's, +130 lbs. tarpon.


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A "spring breaker" out for a "Bigger Time"

Lou Barone with a big tarpon.


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Keith Hetrick catches a nice tarpon on #15 test during October.

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Joe Szewczyk with his 90-lbs. tarpon (est.) which made a great 40 min. fight through the lobster traps and bridge pilings.

Releasing another nice tarpon.


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Releasing a big tarpon at night.


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Fighting another great tarpon at sunset.


  ( 03/17/2015 08:30 AM )