Our Top 10 Tarpon Flies

When it comes to tarpon, they can be pursued and found in a tremendous variety of situations. Regarding fly choice, we need to select the right flies for the situation. This applies to most species of fish and their corresponding fly selection. Specifically, tarpon can be located everywhere from 100% freshwater back canals to the beautiful clear waters of the Caribbean and everything in between. This list of 10 flies will cover the specific situations where I’d use these flies. The list is presented in no particular order but is tailored for situations where tarpon thrive, indicating the fly I’d choose for each situation.

Tarpon Toad Peach

A go-to, must-have pattern widely known and used for ocean-side tarpon in the Florida Keys and clear water. The X-Wrapped EP fibers on the head make this fly stay in the “strike zone” longer. The wide profile and movement that the marabou tail provides are what make this pattern a deadly fly for clear water. Tied on an SL12S short, the durable, smaller shank hook provides a perfect bite when those large Keys fish are stuck. Preferred colors: Chart, Black/Purple, Tan.

Rio's Dread Pirate Yellow Chart

A higher sliding pattern with deer hair and ostrich, the Dread Pirate is a great pattern for rolling or high and happy fish. This is a very multi-use pattern and will fish well in a ton of areas where you find tarpon. From the Keys to the Everglades, Caribbean islands, and much more. The ostrich provides tons of movement, while the deer hair pushes a larger wake right under the water’s surface. This pattern is deadly effective on the mangroves in the morning for juvenile tarpon.

Preferred Colors: Chart, Black/Purple.

Ah yes, you can’t mention tarpon flies without putting a palolo worm in the mix. Known as more of a Florida thing (maybe :P), the palolo worm is a small worm that tarpon can’t seem to resist. Known to be crack for these large creatures, you must have a few in the box if you are fishing in the Southern Florida areas. The reason I like the Chili worm is movement. This pattern is a solid choice to throw almost all of the tarpon season just due to the characteristics and movement of this fly.

Rio's Kingslayer Black

The Kingslayer got its name for a reason. It’s not a crazy fancy fly or design in my eyes, but it’s a “guide style” pattern that is extremely versatile and deadly effective. A natural material pattern that has incredible movement, along with the slight weight from the bead chain eyes up front, gives you the smallest sinking effect to get down to cruising oceanside fish. This pattern fishes extremely well ocean-side in clear water. The same thing goes for medium-sized rolling fish in mangroves; the bead chain allows the fly to get down where the fish normally hold. An added benefit of this pattern is how softly it lands due to the natural materials.


I’m not sure where to begin with this fly. This is an extremely early pattern when it comes to the world of fly fishing for tarpon. With all the modern materials and crazy variations of flies new to the market, this fly still holds strong and is effective when it comes to landing a big tarpon with a fly rod. Known as more of an oceanside or clear water pattern, this splay hackle tail has probably taken more fish than any other in existence. A small shrimp imitation with the splay tails that come together while stripped for a pulsing movement that large fish can’t resist. This specific one pictured is tied on the Tiemco 600SP hook. The hook is extremely durable and razor-blade sharp. I prefer the 1/0 size for Florida fish and 3/0 size for almost anywhere in the Caribbean.

Tarpon/Pike Snake Black

Chicken on a hook… The larger snake pattern is notorious for big mangroves and river fish. Popular guides such as Bob LeMey and Harry Spear have brought patterns like this to light. For muddy water and large fish, this pattern is an automatic tie-on for me. This pattern pushes a ton of water and has a large silhouette that tarpon can see/feel in the dark water. Places such as the Yucatan and Belize river systems and, of course, Everglades National Park are the perfect places to have these in your box.

EP Peanut Butter Black/Red #2/0

What tarpon doesn’t eat a big baitfish? Fished at night around bridges in the Keys or any Caribbean Island, this pattern will surely get the attention of any tarpon swimming. When you don’t know what to tie on or what they are keyed in on, tie on an EP peanut butter and watch the magic happen when you throw it. A huge positive of this pattern is it has all the profile without having the weight and water saturation that most other large baitfish patterns have. This pattern is easily thrown in the wind and can be fished on the ocean or in mangrove bays very effectively.

Similar to the EP Peanut Butter, this is another EP baitfish fly. However, this specific color and smaller sizing allow this pattern to be insanely versatile for tarpon fishing. From freshwater canals and lakes to Tamiami Trail backwater, smaller-sized tarpon cannot resist this pattern. Made to mimic a myriad of baitfish found in freshwater, this pattern just works.


Mark Giacobba is a student of the Everglades and has seen some spectacular things in nature and how the fish react to their food. The Doofus (and Skrimp) fly from Mark is a combination of what he has seen as a food source and what he gets these fish to eat daily. These patterns are the perfect combination of what thrives in the Everglades as bait goes. Made to match a shrimp, these patterns ride hook point down, have a small egg sac hot spot, and large antennae to get the tarpon to commit. The dark color Brown/Chart is for use in the darker creeks and backcountry. The lighter shrimp tan pattern is used for clearer water or along the coast/Florida Bay.

There is nothing more exciting than when you pull up to a small pond with slick water, and tarpon are rolling around. Except for when you tie on a top-water fly and watch them explode on it. This Shrimp gurgler is the perfect size to get commitment from medium-sized fish all the way down to micros. This pattern works great along the mangroves. It floats high, is very durable, and makes a nice pop. A more realistic pattern than most, this fly gets it done in the backcountry mangroves.

Sign up for more fly fishing goodness like this delivered straight to your inbox