The Fish: Rage and frustration meets hopes and dreams, this is how I would describe tarpon fishing, after all this is a species in which a successful day is measured not by the number of fish caught but rather by the number of fish jumped. Whether it is on fly or spinning gear, tarpon fishing is the pinnacle of sport fishing for many individuals along the Florida coast. While I don’t consider myself to be an accomplished Tarpon angler, I do consider myself to be an enthusiast of all things light tackle and inshore, of which tarpon are the kings of. All of the large tarpon that I have caught have come from Sebastian inlet where during the mullet run many fish in the 80-150lb range collect to gorge themselves on mullet.
There is no photographic evidence of my biggest fish as it (along with nearly a dozen others) was caught one faithful night on the Sebastian inlet pier, and the fish was too big to fit into our bridge net, a net that we’ve put 80lb fish into in the past. While as I already mentioned I have not picture of this fish but I can produce witnesses if need be, it weight an estimated 140lbs and that’s a conservative guess, no magic scale involved, and my biggest on fly is around 25lbs, with several others in the 40-60lb range put in the air but never landed.
Depending on your location tarpon can be caught year around, but the environment in which they are caught and regularity definitely depends on the time of year. While there are places where 100+ pound fish can be caught year round, the real “big” tarpon season starts with the annual breeding migration. Depending on temperatures the tarpon migration can begin as early as February in the lower Florida Keys, but usually doesn’t get into full swing until mid-march, the further north you are the later in the year you will find migratory schools of fish in your area spanning as late as august. The migration is a breeding migration and is marked by large congregations of fish schooling together and migrating their way northward along the coast line, picking up new members from residential populations as they make their way north as far north as Texas on the Gulf coast, and Virginia on the East coast.
While for many people Tarpon fishing is all about the size of the fish, and trying to catch the biggest one they can, questing for the 200lb+ fish. For me though it’s all about the fish itself, my personal favorite sized fish is under 80lbs, and when it comes to fly fishing the fish in the 10-20lb range are an absolute kick on an 8wt. Don’t get me wrong, big tarpon are fun, and a big one on fly is on my “to-do list” but the smaller ones can be so damn accommodating at times that they’re hard to walk away from. Regardless of what the breeding schools are doing the little guys get going in the summer time and the hotter the weather the better. Some of my most productive days of fishing for tarpon have been had in the late summer from July-late august when the small tarpon or “puppies”, as my dad has always called them, really come out to play.
Flys: The Giveaway
There are too many tarpon flies, and fly tiers to mention. An important thing to remember is that many tarpon flies are popular in a particular region and for a particular purpose, usually having to do with the tarpon’s available forage. I tried to compile a small assortment of flies that would cover the bases for any angler that might receive them.
Tarpon Toad: to me there is no more quintessential a tarpon fly. It is productive for migrating fish anywhere along the coast, just amend the color accordingly.
Hook: 4/0 Owner Aki
Tail: Palmered Marabou
Collar: Two palmered Hackles
Head: Ep fiber or polypropylene yarn
Eyes: Bead chain or Mono
Borski’s Haystack: As far as I’m concerned Tim Borski is the man, and his fly patterns are the standard from which all other “buggy” fly patterned should be judged. His “Haystack” fly is a model for simplicity and effectiveness in regards to backwater flies. It is effective for any and all backwater species that can be taken on a suspending, Shrimpy/fishy fly pattern, this includes Snook, redfish, seatrout, and of course Tarpon.
Hook: 1/0 Gamakatsu SL12S
Tail: Magnum or Texas Cut Rabbit zonker, Natural Color.
Collar: Two Palmered Natural Red Ginger Hackles
Head: A couple wraps of Chartreuse Estaz Grande
Eyes: None(could use Mono or Bead chain)
Borski’s Green Zima: “This fly is designed for tarpon and is an excellent example of an effective migrating tarpon fly” –Source: www.Burfish.com.
Did I mention that I think Tim Borski is the man? Oh, yeah, I did, and the Green Zima is another one of his patterns. Designed to cast easily to a great distance, land gently, and fall quickly without doing a nose dive. Every fiber of this fly moves and undulates with minimal forward motion allowing it to hang in a Tarpons face, tantalizing it for as long as possible.
Hook: 2/0 Gamakatsu SL12S
Tail: Chartreuse Craft fur Stack on top of sand craft fur, then Barred with a brown marker (original is tied with Green Craft fur barred brown)
Collar: palmered Olive Grizzly hackle
Wing: Olive arctic fox tail (original uses green ice dubbing)