Few fish can top the hard running, leaping, and head-shaking action like a big tarpon on the end of an angler's line. Combine that fight with rod-bending weights of 200 pounds or more, and you've got a recipe for the most popular gamefish in saltwater fishing. These days there are thousands of anglers out there targeting massive tarpon, each hoping for a chance at breaking one of the many popular world record categories for these fish. Because unlike some fish species such as the smallmouth bass or the walleye, where it feels like anglers may have hit the maximum size limits for the species, we've seen enough to know there are massive tarpon swimming around out there that could shatter current tarpon records in the right circumstances.
The All-Tackle World Record for Tarpon
There's a bevy of record catches for tarpon out there. However, none is more desired than that of the International Game Fish Association's all-tackle world record. The current world record tarpon belongs to Max Domecq. In March 2003, Domecq went on a fishing trip off the west coast of Africa when he hooked into a monstrous 286-pound, 9-ounce monster near the island of Rubane in Guinea-Bissau. The record catch measured 90 inches long and had a 50-inch girth.
There aren't a whole lot of details of Domecq's catch available. We know he caught the fish on a CAP rod and a Daiwa Sealine 4/0 reel while using 80-pound test line. This fish jointly holds the line class world record for 80-pound test line. We also know he was using a mullet as bait.
Aside from that, there are two other key details to Domecq's catch that are worth mentioning. The first is this tarpon was Domecq's first ever! Some people have all the luck it seems. Secondly, there's a rumor going around the Internet that Domecq allegedly failed to tip his fishing guide after the massive catch. We don't know if that's true or not. Make of it what you will. In any case, this fish still sits in the top spot despite some close calls from other giant tarpon in recent years.
We Haven't Seen the Biggest Tarpon Yet
If there's one thing anglers can agree on, it's been well-documented that there are much larger tarpon than Domecq's catch swimming the world's oceans. In most cases, the anglers either didn't know what they had and released it, or the circumstances of the catch simply prevented it from being listed in the record books. For instance, an 8-foot tarpon with a 53-inch girth was caught by Jan Trombl off Anna Maria Island Beaches in 2013.
In the case of that fish, multiple anglers took turns fighting it, which means it probably wouldn't have been eligible for the all-tackle world record anyway. However, estimates on this fish's weight put it in the 300-pound range. The anglers and guide were non-kill anglers. So, they released it and didn't learn it could have been the biggest ever until they returned to shore.
In February of 2017, photos began to circulate of a huge tarpon caught in Olende, Gabon, Africa. Details on it were sketchy, but it allegedly was estimated to weigh approximately 326 pounds.
Then there's the case of a 9-foot, 2-inch beast supposedly caught off the Nicaraguan coast in 2014. The anglers responsible for that catch appear to be unknown. It allegedly had a slightly smaller 48-inch girth, but it was still estimated to be in the 300-pound range.
Most recently, in 2021, popular fishing YouTuber Joshua Jorgensen, also known as Blacktip H, was filming an episode for his channel off Bahio Solano, Columbia when he hooked into a massive, invasive tarpon. Jorgensen probably would have fought this fish on his own, but he decided to share fighting duties with one of his friends, Dr. Robert Borrego. This was because Jorgensen had just had surgery for a herniated disk in his back. The injury made the unexpected giant a bit too much to fight. Just like the Trombl tarpon, IGFA probably wouldn't have counted it.
In any case, when the anglers finally brought the massive tarpon onboard, they thought it was the 200-pound range and they released the fish to fight another day. It wasn't until much later that they talked to some tarpon experts who estimated the fish was probably closer to the 312-pound range. There's likely little doubt it's the largest tarpon ever caught on video, which you can watch above.
There are plenty of other examples like these. Some giants were caught in nets, and in other stories the anglers simply didn't have the equipment for a proper weigh-in. It's probably all a moot point. In truth, it may be an extremely long time before we see the all-tackle tarpon record fall even though anglers are regularly catching giants like these. I feel like that's because anglers have become more hesitant to keep a tarpon, and killing it is the only way to get an accurate weight on a three-hundred pound tarpon. They're also not known for being great eating fish. As a result, many anglers have simply adopted a greater emphasis on catch and release. In fact, in many popular fisheries like Puerto Rico, there are now regulations that dictate catch and release only for the species.
Many anglers target tarpon with more of a conservation-based mindset these days. They want other anglers to have a chance to tangle with these giants. We suspect the downfall of some popular tarpon fisheries, like that around Homosassa, Florida, may have something to do with that. Anglers today seem much more concerned with the preservation of this species than they were in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Notable Tarpon Line Class Records
There are probably more people pursuing line class records for tarpon than any other species out there. That goes for both saltwater and freshwater. It shows as you scan the record books.
The second-largest tarpon ever recorded by the IGFA includes two 30-pound line-class world records of 283 pounds. The first was caught by Mario Salazar in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela in March of 1956, and another taken off Sherbro Island, Sierra Leone by Yvon Sebag in April of 1991.
The third-largest tarpon ever registered by the IGFA is another Sherbo Island giant. That one is a 271-pounder that currently holds the 50-pound test line record. It was caught by Pierre Clostermann in March of 1993.
From there, the IGFA records several other large tarpon fishing line class records in the 200- to 260-pound range, and some of the largest catches on weaker line tests are not necessarily the most impressive either. Just take Elizabeth's Hogan 1991 catch of a 56-pounder using two-pound test line. Or George Hogan's 106-pound beast caught on two-pound line off Marathon Key, Florida in June of 1992. He also caught a 139-pounder on six-pound line. Hogan has held a staggering 26 IGFA world records, 14 of them being current.
Then there's Tom Evan's fly fishing records. Evans has held no less than seven tippet records for tarpon, in three different line classes. One of his most notable was a giant 194-pound, 8-ounce behemoth on 12-pound tippet off Pine Island, Florida in May of 2010. As you can see, once anglers get tarpon line class records in their blood, it's hard for them to stop pursuing them!
As we've already noted, there are plenty of game fish species where it feels like we've reached the absolute limits of their maximum size. It's gotten to the point that catching a new record for some species may have the same odds as winning the Powerball lottery. The tarpon is not one of those species. Catching the giants is still incredibly hard, but recent history has shown the big ones are out there waiting for the anglers who are willing to work for it.
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