How to Catch Tarpon in South Carolina

Are you looking for an exciting and unforgettable fishing experience? Look no further than tarpon fishing in South Carolina! Known as “silver kings,” tarpon are a powerful and acrobatic fish that can grow up to eight feet long and weigh over 200 pounds. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about tarpon fishing in South Carolina, from where to find these fish to the best techniques for catching them.

A Primer on Tarpon

Before we dive into the specifics of tarpon fishing techniques, let’s take a closer look at the fish itself. Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) belong to the Megalopidae family and can be found in warm coastal waters around the world. These fish can grow to impressive sizes, with the average size caught in South Carolina being between 50 and 100 pounds.

One of the most distinguishing features of tarpon is their acrobatic leaps when hooked. This makes them a beloved game fish for many anglers. In South Carolina, tarpon can usually be found in inshore and estuary locations, such as creeks, rivers, and marshes. They are also known to migrate, making seasonal appearances in these areas from late spring to early fall.

Understanding Weather Conditions

When planning a tarpon fishing trip, it’s crucial to consider the impact of weather conditions. While tarpon can be caught in a variety of conditions, understanding how weather patterns affect their behavior will greatly increase your chances of success.

For example, scattered thunderstorms can impact tarpon fishing. When there are thunderstorms in the area, tarpon tend to seek shelter in deeper water. But once the storm passes, they will often return to their usual feeding areas. Therefore, it’s important to keep an eye on the forecast and plan your fishing accordingly.

Wind direction is also a crucial factor to consider. When the wind shifts, so do the feeding patterns of tarpon. For example, a shift from a westerly wind to a northerly wind can change the location of feeding tarpon entirely.

Additionally, the temperature can greatly affect tarpon behavior, with an optimal temperature range of 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also important to consider how temperature impacts water conditions, impacting the location of tarpon and their activity levels.

Tarpon Fishing Techniques and Equipment

Now that we know more about tarpon and how weather conditions can impact their behavior, let’s look at the fishing techniques and equipment you’ll need for a successful trip.

Rods and Reels

Tarpon are strong fish and require durable equipment. A 7- to 8-foot rod with a fast action tip to allow for long casts is recommended, paired with a reel that can hold at least 200 yards of 30- to 50-pound braided line. Tarpon can be caught on spinning gear or conventional equipment, depending on your personal preference.

Line and Leader Material

When it comes to line and leader material, it’s important to choose abrasion-resistant materials to handle the tarpon’s sharp scales and rough lips. A 60- to 80-pound fluorocarbon leader is recommended, coupled with 50- to 80-pound braided line.

Baits and Lures

Tarpon can be caught using both live bait and artificial lures. When it comes to live bait, options such as mullet, pinfish, and shrimp can be effective. Alternatively, artificial lures such as swimbaits, plugs, and jigs can also work well.


There are a few techniques you can use when targeting tarpon. Sight casting involves visually spotting feeding tarpon and casting your lure or bait towards them. Drifting can also be effective, with the boat moving with the current and presenting the bait to tarpon as you drift by. Trolling involves slowly towing a bait or lure behind the boat and waiting for a tarpon to strike. Finally, anchoring and chumming can attract tarpon to the boat using baitfish and scent.

Stealth and Presentation

When targeting tarpon, it’s important to approach them quietly and avoid making loud noises or vibrations that can spook them. In addition, proper lure presentation can make the difference between a strike and a missed opportunity. Experimenting with retrieve speeds and lure depths can often coax stubborn tarpon into biting.

Best Locations for Tarpon Fishing in South Carolina

In South Carolina, tarpon can be found in a variety of locations, including:

Inshore Hotspots

Estuaries and marshes found along the coast, such as the ACE Basin and Winyah Bay, can be great tarpon hotspots. Coastal rivers and creeks, such as the Santee River and the Ashepoo River, can also be productive areas.

Nearshore Areas

Jetties and piers found along the coast and inlet areas can be productive places to target tarpon. Beaches and barrier islands can also be great locations to find feeding tarpon.

Offshore Hotspots

Wrecks and reefs found offshore can be great areas to find tarpon, as they provide cover and attract baitfish. Offshore ledges found in deeper water can also be productive areas.

Safety Considerations and Ethical Practices

When tarpon fishing in South Carolina, safety considerations and ethical practices should always be top of mind.

Weather Safety

Make sure to stay up to date on local weather conditions and prepare for the possibility of inclement weather. In particular, lightning is a safety concern, and you should get off the water if you see lightning or hear thunder.

Catch-and-Release Regulations

It’s important to note that tarpon are a catch-and-release species in South Carolina, with specific size restrictions and bag limits in place. Be sure to adhere to these regulations, and handle the fish with care to minimize harm.

Boating Safety and Equipment

Make sure you have all the necessary safety gear on board, including life jackets and a radio for emergency communication. And don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen for the weather conditions.

Hiring a Professional Guide

If you’re new to tarpon fishing or want to increase your odds of success, hiring a professional fishing guide can be a great option. A local guide can provide insider knowledge of tarpon hotspots and offer expertise in various fishing techniques. They can also ensure that you’re practicing proper safety and ethical practices while on your trip.


As you can see, tarpon fishing in South Carolina requires careful planning and preparation. By understanding tarpon behavior, selecting the right equipment and techniques, and practicing proper safety and ethical practices, you can increase your odds of landing a silver king on your next fishing trip. Remember to always prioritize safety and ethical practices, and don’t hesitate to consult with local experts for advice and guidance. Above all, enjoy the experience of catching these remarkable fish in the beautiful waters of South Carolina!

Additional Questions

When is the best time to catch Tarpon in South Carolina?

Fishing enthusiasts in South Carolina usually see the influx of tarpon in the months from April, with the peak season being around July and August. However, the distribution of tarpon is highly dependent on temperature; they prefer temperate to tropical waters and may even die in water temperatures less than 50°F due to cold stunning. Interestingly, these mighty creatures are likely to overwinter in the warmer waters of Florida, making their way northwards in spring and returning south in the fall. So, for all the tarpon hunters in South Carolina, the summer months, especially July and August, are your best bet to experience the thrill of catching this formidable fish.

What’s the most effective bait for Tarpon?

When it comes to the art of tarpon fishing, your choice of bait can make a world of a difference. The proved-and-tested baits are various parts of ladyfish or mullet, preferably placed at the bottom or using a live mullet or pin fish under a popping cork, especially within the first couple of hours right after the sunrise. That early morning bite can be absolutely thrilling! Alternatively, if you opt for lures, white paddle tails measuring around 5 to 8 inches with 1/2 to one ounce jig heads or DOA Big One Terror Eyz are known to work wonders. But remember, when it comes to tarpon, patience is the key while trying different baits and lures in your quest for that perfect catch!

Is it permissible to take Tarpon out of water in South Carolina?

When it comes to handling tarpon, both the state and Federal Waters of the Gulf and Atlantic have strict rules, primarily for the well-being of these majestic beasts. As per these rules, any tarpon measuring more than 40 inches must absolutely remain in the water unless you’re in pursuit of a state or world record using a tarpon tag. The utmost care is needed to ensure minimal harm to the tarpon, with a special focus on keeping their gills in as much water as is safe. So, in summary, if you’re not keen on making a world record, please keep your tarpon, especially larger ones, in the water where they belong.

Are Tarpon present in South Carolina waters?

Yes, there are tarpon in South Carolina! As summer months roll in, tarpon migrate to the inviting and warmer waters of South Carolina. Some popular hotspots include Calibogue Sound, Charleston Harbor, Fripp Inlet, Edisto Beach, and Winyah Bay. These locales have consistently played host to these incredible creatures and are well-known among the anglers. So, if you’re a tarpon enthusiast, South Carolina is definitely a promising destination for your next fishing adventure.

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