Tarpon Video Placeholder Image

Penn Fleet Captains Battle the Mighty Tarpon

Bow to the Silver King

With undeniable strength and a knack for acrobatics,
even the most experienced anglers must bow to the Silver King.

It’s that time of year again; the tarpon have left their winter haunts and are on the hunt for their next meal. Now is the time to put your gear, and yourself, to the test against these drag-screaming, high-flying gamefish. These monsters will challenge even the most experienced angler. Between their keen eyesight and tough hide, it’s nearly impossible to hook a tarpon. And even if you do hook them, they’ll put up a fight unlike any other as you try to battle them to the boat.

“It's like a potion,” Gonzalez grins, “The Smell Turns Them On.”

Penn Captain Spotlight logo

In Key West, Florida, PENN Fleet Captain Gonzalez Makes Tarpon Fishing Simple

Tarpon fishing is the epitome of a saltwater angler’s battle against depth-dwelling monsters. With proper technique, the right gear, and a relentless attitude to match that of a Tarpon, it doesn’t have to be so hard. Discover how PENN Fleet Captain Pepe Gonzalez makes tarpon fishing as easy as wetting a line.

June 2020

Key West Florida

Tarpon are widely considered the ultimate inshore sportfish. People travel the world and spend years just to get a shot at one of these huge, silver-armored fish. But catching tarpon doesn’t have to be hard. In Key West, Florida, PENN Fleet Captain Pepe Gonzalez has a trick that makes tarpon fishing as easy as taking candy from a baby.

The huge, silver fish live in exotic places with palm trees and clear, green water. With keen eyesight, metallic armor, a head like a brick, and a mouth like a rock, it is almost impossible to hook a tarpon.

With Keen eyesight, metallic armor, a head like a brick, and a mouth like a rock, it is almost impossible to hook a tarpon.

Each spring, tarpon converge on the southern tip of Florida to spawn and gorge on palolo worms. The action heats up under the full moon with schools of tarpon staging in deep channels. This is the best time to find hundreds of fish swirling below the surface. But even with tarpon rolling around the boat, there are no guarantees. “It’s like a chess match,” Gonzalez laughs, “I always have to stay ahead of the curve.”

A typical trip on Gonzalez’ 27-foot center console starts at 7 a.m. First, the party leaves Key West Harbor and empties the captain’s pinfish traps into his livewell. “I like to start with 150 to 300 pinfish,” Gonzalez says.

Then, the captain heads to the tarpon grounds. “I know places where the tarpon feed on the incoming tide and other places for the outgoing,” he says. Instead of pointing his bow towards the crowd, Gonzalez prefers to find his own fish. “I’d rather see five fish feeding than 1000 fish rolling hard,” he says.

Gonzalez anchors the boat 50 feet upcurrent of the tarpon. Then he cuts up a handful of pinfish and throws the chunks behind the boat. “It’s like a potion,” Gonzalez grins, “the smell turns them on.”

With the tarpon in the mood, Gonzalez deploys a live pinfish on a PENN® Slammer® III spinning reel and Carnage™ II Boat rod, then hands the rod to his client. “The Slammer® III is a tank, I like the big knob on the handle,” he says. Next, he grabs a PENN Torque Lever Drag 2 Speed size 30 with a Carnage™ II Boat rod, hooks a chunk of pinfish, and pitches it behind the boat. Gonzalez says the compact conventional reel is bulletproof with an amazing drag.

To target the world’s greatest inshore sportfish, Gonzalez relies on the lightest line and leader possible. He spools the reels with 50-pound Berkley Pro-Spec braid and adds a 20-foot length of 30 to 50-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon.

At the end of the line, Gonzalez attaches a thin-wire, non-offset 8/0 circle hook. He swears by circle hooks, insisting his hook up ratio is higher. Even an inexperienced angler can hold on to the rod while the fish moves away and the hook comes tight in the corner of its mouth.

The rig seems light for a 100-pound tarpon, but Gonzalez claims anything heavier would spook the fish. Instead, he relies on tough tackle and angler skill to beat trophy tarpon. “It’s amazing that a 100-pound fish will eat an inch-long bait.”

"I know places where the tarpon feed on the incoming tide and other places for the outgoing," he says. Instead of pointing his bow towards the crowd, Gonzalez prefers to find his own fish. "I'd rather see five fish feeding than 1000 fish rolling hard", he says.

Holding the rod puts the angler in the center of the action. When a man-sized tarpon takes the bait and launches head-high into the air, Gonzalez instructs his anglers, “don’t freak out!” He suggests holding the rod with the tip slightly raised to maintain tension on the line while allowing the fish to jump and run.

With the tarpon hooked and line leaving the reel, Gonzalez cautions against high-sticking the rod. “When the fish jumps, point the tip at it,” he says. This prevents excessive pressure on the line. “If the rod is high, something will break,” he adds.

To shorten the fight and avoid other anglers, Gonzalez will leave his anchor and chase down the biggest tarpon. “We tighten the drag to keep the fight as short as possible,” he says. Once the captain has the leader in his hand, the angler poses for a quick photo. Then Gonzalez takes a wrap on the line, pulls hard and the giant silver and green fish swims off into the clear green water.

“I never lose interest in tarpon fishing,” Gonzalez says. After releasing thousands of fish over years at the helm, the angler is still figuring out his adversary. “It’s like a mind game, the tarpon know what I’m doing and I have to stay one step ahead of them,” he says. PENN logo outline

Reels
Close-up of hands handling reel

“I fish like a ninja and it pays off”

Penn Captain Spotlight logo

Pro Tactics for Tarpon Fishing at Night from PENN Fleet Captain Russell Kleppinger

The most committed anglers will stop at nothing to land these nearly 200-pound beasts. Learn how PENN Fleet Captain Russell Kleppinger manages to catch and release over 1,000 tarpon in one season with fishing techniques for all hours.

June 2020

Miami Florida

After a week of pulling all-nighters, PENN Fleet Captain Russell Kleppinger loses track of time. “The tackle shop brings me bait and friends bring cheeseburgers to the launch ramp,” he laughs. In the height of tarpon season, Kleppinger doesn’t see a lot of sleep; but he does see a lot of tarpon.

“Last year my clients released 1,117 tarpon,” he says. His best days see over 20 releases and he caught two fish estimated over 200 pounds. “Like the kid I fought in high school and later became friends with, I’ve gained a lot of respect for tarpon.”

"Tarpon are warriors that will fight until the end," he says. The fish can jump, dive, run, greyhound, and charge. "They are the ultimate gamefish."

For seven months a year, Kleppinger chases tarpon day and night. “I am not a robot,” he insists, arguing that he doesn’t follow a regular schedule when fishing for tarpon. “If the tide is right at three in the morning, then we’re fishing at three in the morning,” he says.

This flexibility allows Kleppinger to fish on the tarpon’s schedule, he says moving current is the key to the bite. “I have places we fish on the incoming and other places that are better on the outgoing.”

Kleppinger not only adjusts his schedule to the tarpon, but his location. “I fish out of Miami and the Keys,” he says, and he has a half-dozen launch ramps where he will meet clients.

Once on the water, Kleppinger is in his element. “People are amazed how much you can see at night,” he says. When he’s fishing Miami, the city lights illuminate the fishing grounds. “In the Keys it is so dark, the stars are amazing,” Kleppinger marvels.

After calculating the conditions, Kleppinger chooses a location where current and structure meet. “At night, we are generally fishing a beach, channel edge, or bridge,” he adds. Then, Kleppinger slowly cruises around with a trolling motor looking for rolling tarpon. “Even in the dark you can see and even hear the fish,” he says.

When Kleppinger finds the tarpon, he has two choices: live bait or lures. “Bait is the go-to, but I have clients who want to catch them on artificials, too.” Tidal conditions determine his bait choice; Kleppinger will use baitfish on an incoming tide and crustaceans on the outgoing.

Another advantage of night fishing is fooling the tarpon’s razor-sharp vision. “Tarpon can see 5000 times better than people can,” Kleppinger professes. He explains the fish’s eyes have more rods and cones, allowing them to even see ultraviolet light. “Like how we can’t hear a dog whistle, we can’t see the things a tarpon sees.”

When he’s pitching light crabs or shrimp, Kleppinger breaks out 6500 PENN® Slammer® reels and matching 40 to 80-pound PENN® Carnage™ II boat roads. When he’s targeting big tarpon in deep water or using heavier bait, Kleppinger goes with a PENN® Fathom® Lever Drag 2 Speed in a 30 size and a matching Carnage™ II Boat rod.

His location determines his line choice. In open water, he chooses 40-pound ProSpec Braid and 30 feet of 30-pound mono. At the end of the mono, he adds a three-foot section of 40-pound fluorocarbon. When Kleppinger is hitting deep water around heavy structure, he’ll bump up to 50-pound mono and 60-pound fluorocarbon. To cheat the tarpon’s sharp eyes, the challenge is using the lightest line possible.

Hook choice is critical; Kleppinger relies on a 7/0 to 9/0 circle hook. He likes a thin wire, non-offset hook. “I crush the barb so it doesn’t further injure the fish,” he adds. Kleppinger’s favorite lures are mullet and shrimp imitations. “I replace any treble hooks with singles,” he adds.

Kleppinger insists circle hooks actually improve his hook up ratio. When a tarpon bites, he leaves the rod in the holder and cranks the line tight. “The bite is extremely violent,” he explains, leaving the rod in the holder ensures the line will stay tight until the hook finds purchase.

"Last year my clients released 1,117 tarpon," he says. His best days see over 20 releases and he caught two fish estimated over 200 pounds. "Like the kid I fought in high school and later became friends with, I've gained a lot of respect for tarpon."

Then, he instructs the client to remove the rod from the holder and hang on. “Tarpon are warriors that will fight until the end,” he says. The fish can jump, dive, run, greyhound, and charge. “They are the ultimate gamefish.”

“When the tarpon jumps, headshakes, or does anything crazy, point the rod at the fish,” Kleppinger instructs his anglers. “Bowing to the king”, as it’s called, takes tension out of the line and allows the fish to freak out without pulling out the hook.

To preserve the tarpon’s strength, Kleppinger keeps the fight as short as possible. “I can put a lot of pressure on them to get the fish to the boat quickly,” he says. Once he has the leader in hand, he leaves the tarpon in the water while the angler leans in for a picture. “A big tarpon could be 50 to 80 years old,” Kleppinger says; removing it from the water causes it too much stress. Before releasing the fish, he swims it beside the boat until it stays upright and kicks away.

Then, he is quick to set up for the next tarpon bite. With the fishing close and the tarpon on the feed, Kleppinger expects double digit catches on tarpon up to 200 pounds. “Last year I only had two days we didn’t catch any tarpon,” he adds. But to get the best fishing, Kleppinger follows the tides and the current. “I fish like a ninja and it pays off,” he says. PENN logo outline

Angler on boat reeling in
Close-up of Penn reel
Penn Battle tag
PENN® Battle® III Spinning Reel

TACKLING TARPON WITH THE NEW PENN® Battle® III

The PENN® Battle® series is recognized amongst saltwater anglers for its strength, smoothness, and durability. Coming July 2020, the Battle® III Spinning Reel enhances all three of these attributes. The full metal body and sideplate of this reel give it the rigid framework needed to keep gears in alignment and maintain its strength, even under heavy loads like a 200-pound tarpon. HT-100™ Carbon Fiber Drag Washers make for a longer lasting and smoother drag system so you can fight fish without breaking off. And, of course, we know that the name of the game in saltwater fishing is durability, so we’ve added PENN’s proprietary CNC Gear™ Technology to give you tough, machined gears that offer more precision and smoothness fight after fight. With a reel like this on your side, catching tarpon will be easier than ever before. Stay tuned for the release of this game-changing reel.

Coming Soon!

Build Your Tarpon  Catching Arsenal

DISCOVER OUR WIDE RANGE OF RODS AND REELS DESIGNED WITH TARPON IN MIND. USED BY PENN FLEET CAPTAINS AROUND THE WORLD, THIS GEAR IS GUARANTEED TO HELP YOU CATCH BIGGER TARPON THIS SEASON.