Running from the Law: Honeymoon - Feeding the Tarpon at Sunset Grill

Friday, January 15, 2010

Honeymoon - Feeding the Tarpon at Sunset Grill

There has been a lot of talk about tarpon on this blog. Tarpon (Megalops Alanticus) are not only one of the most unique fish swimming in the ocean, they are one of the favorites for fly fisherman around the world. Tarpon can weigh up to 200 pounds, and have a longevity of 50 years, which means you can catch and release a tarpon and your child or even grandchild can catch the same fish in its lifetime. Tarpon spend their first 10 years living in backcountry waters before they are ready to swim out and join the migrating schools in the deep ocean. Tarpon do not even begin to breed until the age of 10.

At Sunset Grill in San Pedro, you can actually hand-feed tarpon! This is the only place in Belize and one of the only places in the world where you can interact with a tarpon, up close and personal. The tarpon at the Sunset Grill are the resident juvenile fish working their way up to becoming one of these 10 year olds heading out to sea. The fish here (as well as their habitat) are protected, which is paramount for the species to survive.

We did not know about the Sunset Grill before we went to San Pedro, but were pretty excited about it when we heard. We didn’t really know what to expect. We figured that it would be similar to other water-side restaurants we’ve been to where you throw food into the water and watch the fish scramble for your scraps. Boy, were we wrong.

On New Year’s Eve day we decided to go into town to get some champagne and have lunch at the Sunset Grill to see what all this tarpon fuss was about. While dining on the deck over the water, we watched the tarpon swim near our table. What’s interesting about tarpon (which we learned at Location X) is that they surface regularly and gulp air. It’s called “rolling.” At Sunset Grill, the tarpon swimming around the dock were constantly rolling, so you get glimpses of the 20-40 pound fish ever few minutes. It was cool, but basically exactly what we expected.

However, after lunch is when the action got good. We walked over to the feeding station with our bucket of sardines and a camera, not really knowing what to expect. We rang the feeding bell and the tarpon immediately knew that we were waiting with treats. Ryan went first, dangling a sardine over the water waiting. Within a few seconds a very large bucket mouth appeared and ate the sardine right out of his hand! This 30 pound tarpon literally came 2 feet out of the water and engulfed his entire hand, nearly taking his wedding ring with it. We both looked at each other absolutely astonished and said “Holy Shit!” And then, it was ON.

It was so hard to catch a picture of them because they are SO quick. I took about 700 pictures before I finally got a good one.

After he fed a couple, it was my turn. It was so hard to tell where they were coming from, and before I knew it, my whole hand was in the mouth of a tarpon. Maybe it was the 4 Belikin beers I had during lunch in preparation for this feeding, but my reaction time was rather slow. (*Yes, I know I look like a heifer in these pictures. It was a fat day. Leave me alone.)

Ryan did better with the camera. He even managed to get some video footage of the feeding.

Yes. That was my WHOLE hand inside his mouth. Tarpon don't have teeth, but their mouths are like sandpaper. See...

Tarpon Facts...

-- Tarpon can live to be 50 years old
-- Tarpon don't breed until 10 years old
-- Tarpon breathe air
-- World record Tarpon: shared by two 283-pound fish (1956 in Venezuela and 1991 in Serria Leone)
-- The Florida record was 243 pounds caught in 1975 off of Key West, Florida
-- Juvenile Tarpon weigh 50-60 pounds
-- Baby Tarpon weigh 20-30 pounds

Needless to say, it was awesome!

A quote from the Sunset Grill’s website:

“Many a fly fishing angler has spent the days on the flats searching for a hookup of the famed silver tarpon only to end up at the Sunset Grill enjoying an evening meal with 50 resident tarpon swimming by as he or she contemplates the mystery of Tarpon fishing.”


  1. My goodness! You guys are adventurous! It's insane that they jump up so aggressively!

  2. This looks like so much fun! I've never seen anything like it!

  3. Whoa! Those are some BIG fish! Pretty cool experience though. I don't know if I'd have the guts to hang off a dock with a sardine in my hand and let a fish put its entire mouth around my fingers. I might be all set with that!

  4. What a nice way to spend the holiday season. I'll take of Belize of the cold and rain of New York any day.

  5. :D!!
    The exact same thing just happened to me a couple of weeks ago (June 2010). My wrist looks the same!

    Toronto, Canada

  6. Nice... providing travel services for holidays in Venezuela, and we also give fishing charters like Tarpon fishing Rio Chico, offshore fishing Venezuela, tarpon fishing Venezuela, fishing Los Roques, fly fishing Los Roques, marlin fishing Venezuela.