For many years I had all the flats that large tarpon moved over all to myself from Miami to Key Largo. The bonefish guides on north Key Largo would not fish for tarpon. At times I guided clients staying in Islamorada in Florida Bay, from Lignumvitae Basin Key North to Man of War Key. Also west to Duck Key.
One of the largest schools of tarpon I ever saw was on the ocean side of Elliot Key (Biscayne Bay). It had several thousand fish in it, my angler hooked an average size fish at the front of the school, and while fighting this fish over 30 minutes on fly rod tarpon were streaming by us on both sides of the boat. Many times while fishing west of Key West I was never out of sight of schools of tarpon heading toward us all day long, one school after another, on the south side of Boca Grande or Women Key. I have seen the same thing happen when I first started fishing out of Homosassa, fish on the west side of the St. Martens Ils., Chasawitska Point, and west of Pine Island. These huge numbers of tarpon do not exist today. About the same time fishing out of Homosassa, the commercial net boats started netting mullet for their roe to ship to the Orient where they got a very high price ($25.00 a bite in Tokyo).
Boats were coming from Georgia and Alabama to net mullet. More boats started shrimping and trapping crabs until there was no longer enough food supply to support a large population of tarpon, which was decreased by 95% in less than ten years. Commercial fishing is responsible for the decline of all fish population where it is not controlled. This also happened on the east coast of Florida. Migrations of large tarpon have been seen in the gulf stream but most of them take place in near shore waters. If bothered too much they will head for deeper water.
There is a point on the southeast end of Old Rhodes Key called Curtis Point by local guides and fishermen. It is a place where most of the tarpon migrating on the east coast swim by sometimes just a few yards from shore on a high tide when moving south or north. No other place like this exists in the Flordia Keys where so many tarpon come by in shallow water. This point is so coveted by many guides and anglers, you have to get there early in the morning before sunrise to fish this place. I am flattered this part of the geography was named after me. White Water Bay in the Everglades National Park is an exceptional place where tarpon spend the winter months in water 4 to 6 ft. deep. They only show when the water is 75 degrees or more but then you will see a lot of them busting bait fish and free jumping. These tarpon will go from 50 lbs. to over 150 lbs. Excellent flyfishing. Theses fish leave here the middle of April. There are many places where small tarpon can be found during the warmer months. Other places in White Water Bay for large tarpon have been ruined by too much boat traffic.
Florida Bay, which is part of the Everglades National Park, has many excellent places to fish for large tarpon. All commercial fishing (netting, shriming, trapping) came to a stop within park boundaries about 22 years ago. Commercial fishing is the no. 1 enemy of tarpon and responsible for more than a 95% decline of the tarpon population in Florida, this is a very conservative figure. Tarpon as a gamefish is worth one hundred times more to our economy than any commercial fishing endeavor. Our politicians with hands under the table do not see it this way.