Tarpon Fly Fishing: The Most Dangerous Game?

April 27, 2020

Tarpon Fly Fishing: The Most Dangerous Game?

Tarpon are some of the most prized saltwater sportfish in the world. Often growing over 100+ pounds, these beasts of the saltwater flats will put up a fight you won’t soon forget. They swarm the coasts of Florida every summer, congregating around Boca Grande and Tampa Bay to feed. And if you want to take things even more to the extreme, you can fly fish for tarpon. Depending on the time of year, tarpon are very aggressive and will hit brightly colored flies presented to them. 

But how do you prepare to fight a triple-digit weighing fish on fly tackle? In this article, we’ll cover the allure of fly fishing for tarpon, the best techniques for tarpon fly fishing, what not to do, as well as how to safely land a tarpon on light tackle. So strap in, grab a beer, and let us help you prepare for the fishing adventure of a lifetime.

Not into fly fishing and want to fish for tarpon using a spinning reel and artificial lures? We’ve got the perfect buying guide on the best saltwater spinning reels for the job. You should also check out our article on how to spin cast for bonefish.

The Allure of Tarpon Fly Fishing

If you weren’t sold on the idea of fly fishing for tarpon, we’re going to list out some of the main reasons why choose to fly fish over traditional tackle.

  1. Tarpon love flies. Unlike other saltwater game fish, tarpon will strike and eat most flies you present to them. They’re natural-born hunters and can’t resist what seems like an easy snack. On days when the other members of the grand slam (permit and bonefish) are too skittish, tarpon won’t be phased. You can also often see them rolling near the surface, which makes sight fishing easy.
  2. They fight like crazy. First-time tarpon fly fishers are often in disbelief when they first hook a tarpon. They almost always go airborne, and often run hundreds of feet away from your boat. Be prepared for insanity.
  3. They’re catch-and-release in most waters. This means that there are plenty of tarpon to go around, and they’re allowed to grow into monsters.

Where to Go Tarpon Fly Fishing

Luckily tarpon are abundant in many tropical water locations. Florida, Belize, Mexico, and the Bahamas all have their share of large hungry tarpon. The bigger issue is picking an environment that will be supportive of a novice fisherman.

For those who have never saltwater flats fished before, the experience can be frustrating. Unlike other types of fishing, you can see the fish you’re going for clearly in the water (and they can see you). This means that you only get a “shot” (cast) or two before they get scared and swim away. Often times you’ll only get one chance to present your lure to a tarpon swimming by, and if you put it too far away or too close to them they won’t bite.

Belize is our favorite place to go tarpon fly fishing because the entire fishery is catch and release. If you’re planning your next trip and looking for a guide, be sure to check out our review of Go Fish Belize!

Tarpon Fly Fishing Tackle

The first step in setting yourself up for success when fly fishing for tarpon is to buy the right gear. Tarpon will take your gear to its limits, and if you don’t have the right setup you’ll end up losing the fish and most likely your gear too. 

For line, we recommend using a 10 to 12 weight floating line with a clear sink tip depending on wind conditions. The heavier the wind, the heavier line you should use. For your leader, you should use a classic 25 lb tippet that’s 9 to 14 feet long. Both monofilament and fluorocarbon will work, but fluorocarbon will give you added tensile strength.

As far as flies go, we like using 1/0 to 3/0 sized hooks with splayed tail and married tail presentations. Worms, baitfish, and toad styles also can work well in opaque water conditions. If you’re not sure what to go with, swing by the local fly shop at your destination and see what’s been working recently.

How to Prepare

When fishing for what many consider the ultimate game fish, preparation and practice are invaluable. You’d be surprised at the number of seasoned fly fishermen that choke when a monster swims past their boat. So how should you prepare?

  • If you picked up new tackle to fly fish for tarpon, take it out for spin ahead of your trip. Practice casting in your driveway or an empty parking lot to get the feel down of using heavier line and a bigger rod. Try to practice 30 minutes a day the week before your trip.
  • If you’re using a guide, make sure to level set with them on your level of experience. This way they’ll take you to locations that will be suited for your skill level and help you succeed. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather catch several smaller fish than catch nothing at all.
  • Do your research on guides and pick one that states they do well with beginners. You want someone who will actively teach you while you’re fishing and be supportive when you make mistakes.
  • Plan your trip during the best time of year for tarpon fishing. Tarpon can be caught year-round in many locations, but the summer month of June, July and August are when they are most aggressive. This also marks their migration period when the largest tarpon flock to Florida and the tropics. Look for the tarpon rolling near the surface – this means it’s a prime spot to fly fish. Another key tip: plan your trip to occur during a full moon. The added light at night helps the fish feed and makes them more aggressive during the day as well. The full moon also provides the largest tide swing which fish tend to like because it brings in more food from the open ocean.

Final Thoughts

If you’re planning your first fly fishing trip for tarpon, we’re jealous. Tarpon are one of the most exciting fish to fly fish for, and many angulars only dream of the day they’ll get to fish for them. We hope you find luck in your tarpon fishing endeavors and if you want to share a story with us please hit us up in the comments below. And if you want to buy a replica fish mount of a tarpon you’ve caught, be sure to check out our replica fish mount write-up!

Happy Hunting!

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