Tarpon use their big, hard, vacuum-like mouths to feed, which means whichever lure or bait you end up going with, you’ll want to make sure you’re outfitted with very sharp, strong saltwater hooks. Also, their large eyes are designed for feeding by sight in and out of canals and lagoons. For this reason, as natural of a presentation as you can make is key, which means low-vis, which means fluorocarbon leaders.
One of my favorite tarpon lures is a swimming plug. They’re great as searching baits because they’re simple to use; all you do is crank it through the water and the lip on the plug gives it the action and depth you need. A great option here is a Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow. During the day, a natural silver white finish is effective. When you get a strike, hit back hard a few times to sink the hook.
Soft plastics are another great option and one of the best is the D.O.A. Baitbuster. D.O.A. is a popular saltwater bait company and the Baitbuster simply needs to be reeled in to allow its double-tailed design to provide attractive action. A silver Baitbuster does a great job at imitating a finger mullet and this works well when tarpon are hitting bait in the surf or rolling just offshore.
There are times when tarpon stage in deeper water basins or small channels to intercept the flow of bait—primarily shrimp in this instance—brought out from inside waters by the falling tide. This is a great time to use a bucktail jig tipped with shrimp. In deeper waters, keep your casts well uptide and upcurrent of where tarpon are feeding, and reel in the jig with a slow sweep and pause action. Keep in mind that a strike on a bucktail jig can feel like a light bump, so pay attention when this happens, then reel in and set the hook right away.
If you’ve never headed deep into inshore canals and lagoons for tarpon, then it’s firm opinion that you’re missing out on one of the most exciting species on the water. The lures outlined above are some of the most popular and effective baits for tarpon, and arming yourself with them will give you a good head start should you find yourself in silver king country.