Can You Eat Tarpon and How Does It Taste?

As anglers, we can all agree that catching a tarpon is indeed an exhilarating challenge. However, that agreement ends when the topic of eating it starts.

Tarpon is one of the most prized and appreciated game fishes because of its enormous size and forceful antics when hooked, making it an extreme dare for most fishers. Nevertheless, you may be among those who remain unsure what to do next after landing the catch. Once or twice, you may have asked yourself questions like can you eat tarpon and how does it taste. The short answer is yes, you can eat it, but the question remains if you want to. Below, we have expanded on some interesting facts on tarpon, how it tastes and how to prepare it if you want to eat it.

Tarpon fish in its natural habitat off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean jumping out of the water.

First things first, it is vital to know the basic information regarding tarpon before delving deeper into the subject of its edibility. Thus, I have included simple tarpon facts for you to achieve a better background and understanding of the topic.

Appearance

Belonging in the family of Megalopidae, tarpons are categorized into two species, namely the Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic. The latter is more massive of the two in terms of size, with an average length of five to six feet and a maximum weight of 350 pounds, which is common among adult types. Meanwhile, the mature Indo-Pacific tarpons roughly reach three feet in length, but those living in freshwater environments do not extend as long.

Both species feature elongated bodies and silver-colored scales. Moreover, similar to catfishes or bowfins, tarpons are equipped with attributes that empower them to adapt well. The most noteworthy of which is their swim bladder that serves as their lung, allowing them to break the surface and gulp air.

Habitat

Tarpons can dwell in various habitats, thanks to the swim bladder that enables them to survive poorly oxygenated bodies of water. Although most of them inhabit saltwater areas like bays, oceans, estuaries, and lagoons, some also occupy freshwater regions such as lakes, rivers, wetlands, and streams. The Indo-Pacific species is found to be more prominent in freshwater environments compared to its Atlantic counterpart.

Tarpon fish jumping out of water in the Atlantic Ocean off of the Florida coast

Behaviour

This kind of fish is often seen in groups called schools. Smaller schools of tarpons move into shallow areas to search for food. Their diet actually differs based on age. Young tarpons typically feed on insects and zooplanktons such as fish larvae and krill, whereas adults prey on shrimp, pinfish, crabs, needlefish, and more, which they swallow whole.

Likewise, tarpons transfer from one area to another not only to hunt but to breed as well. This happens when small schools combine to become bigger in number and yield more eggs.

Also make sure to check out our article on the best time to catch tarpon!

Reputation

Tarpons are renowned for their undeniable “athleticism” that makes it challenging to keep them hooked at the end of the line. That is why many anglers devote time to learn fishing strategies and techniques to increase their chances of catching one. It is also for this reason that tarpons are widely considered a significant game fish in the sport of fishing. See the video below for some nice strategies and techniques.

Can you Eat Tarpon - Tarpons as Food

Now that you already know much more about this game fish, we can finally answer those million-dollar questions. Afterward, I hope that you would be able to draw some personal inferences that will definitely give you more avenues to master this subject matter.

Are Tarpons Edible?

To put it simply, the answer is yes. Tarpons, albeit definitely more unconventional than say salmon or trout, can be plated as food. The existing notion that refuses this claim is only a product of people’s popular aversion that stems from practicality. To expound, lots of fishers think that the arduous process of preparing the tarpon is not worth it because of the unsatisfactory taste.

On the other hand, tarpons can actually still be eaten without having to face the trouble of deboning. Yes, these massive fishes remain edible even when served raw. However, you should remember to choose only the ones caught from saltwater if ever you decide to eat it without cooking. This is because the salt in the water can eradicate harmful germs and bacteria present on the tarpon’s skin, ensuring that your health is not compromised when you try it.

How do Tarpons Taste?

As I already mentioned, numerous people who have dared to catch and eat tarpons complain about the taste, which they believe does not match the effort that goes into catching and preparing one.

I may have to agree with them because although the dish’s flavor is not particularly bad, tarpon meat has a strong odor and tons of bones that make it less enjoyable to eat. Nevertheless, like any other food, the taste can still be enhanced by incorporating the right way of cooking and the right ingredients. 

How to Prepare Tarpons

The first thing that you may want to do when cooking a tarpon is to apply the proper cleaning procedures. Once you have that done, I highly suggest creating fish cakes out of it by following simple recipes, especially if you are just starting in the kitchen.

That way, you can secure that it is safe to eat since poaching and baking are included in the recipe. These processes can help remove any parasites as long as the meat will be heated at 145 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. You may also discard the skin and fat from the fish before cooking it to prevent food contamination. Finally, you should carefully perform the filleting and deboning methods to avoid swallowing any fishbone when you are eating.

Meanwhile, for those who don’t want to be bothered with cooking, keeping tarpons inside a freezer at least one day before eating it will significantly contribute to destroying any remaining microorganisms present on its surfaces.

Tarpon fish jumping and swimming off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. But can you eat tarpon and how does it taste?

Conclusion

Tarpons are undoubtedly great sporting fishes, and they could be good dishes too if you have the energy to go through the task of deboning and cleaning them. Regardless, I am confident that you have picked up several new things so that next time, you will no longer need to ask yourself questions such as can you eat tarpon and how does it taste. But in case you have anything else to clarify or discuss, fire away on the comment section. For info on bowfin edibility, read here , perch here and koi here.

Before we part, let me emphasize these tips to bring you closer to a pleasurable eating experience with tarpons.

  • Instead of just frying it, I greatly recommend that you poach and bake the tarpon meat into fish cakes to achieve a more delicious flavor.
  • Never eat tarpon raw without freezing it for a minimum of 24 hours to avoid contracting foodborne illnesses.
  • Appropriate cleaning and deboning procedures should be applied to guarantee not just a tasty treat but also a safe one.

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