Are you fully prepared for your meeting with the silver king?
It’s time to meet the king in his court. If you’re not ready you’ll be left grasping your knees as he moves on to his next meeting. Use this checklist to make sure you’re showing up with the right tools, from there it’s just wits and skills that’ll persuade the king in your favor.
Before even taking the fight into consideration, you are going to have to present the fly. Often with a touch of wind. So you’ll need a fast-action rod with a tip that is efficient in handling wind and generating line speed quickly. Once you are connected, you’ll need to be applying maximum pressure at all times with a rod that tells the fish you’re in control. We recommend 11 and 12 weights. 10 weights have their time and place in slick conditions with fish on the smaller side.
In a tarpon fight the reel is your winch, it must be smooth in both directions and have the torque to wear the fish out. The more backing the better, but being that you’ll most likely be fighting the fish from a boat in relatively shallow water you don’t need to go crazy with backing. 185-200 yards of #30 is usually sufficient. By “quick” we mean your line retrieval rate per rotation. The larger the arbor the more efficiently you’ll be able to pick up line and minimize slack as you run down the fish.
The fly line you want to be throwing is based on two things, the situation, and your abilities/style. Weight forward, floating, with a tropical core and coating is your situational foundation for most oceanside and Keys backcountry tarpon fishing. Color and taper design should be tailored to your preference.
Clear lines and clear tip lines have become very popular for the stealth factor. Most modern tarpon lines are designed to be loaded and shot quickly, even in wind. The Cortland Liquid Crystal in the tarpon taper (sizes WF10F-WF12F) has a short front-loaded taper, the AirFlo clear tip has a longer head which is very heavy up front to load effortlessly.
Some anglers aren’t keen to clear lines as they need an opaque line to find and fish the fly. The SA Grand Slam line and the RIO Tarpon QuickShooter are very front-heavy lines, easy to load. The Wulff Triangle Taper Floating has a short head that is more evenly distributed, easier to aerialize line and make soft presentations. The RIO Direct Core Flats Pro has a best of both worlds effect where it loads quickly, but innovative weight distribution and rear taper design allows it to be aerialized and helps with softer showings. The Cortland Ghost Tip with 9′ of clear intermediate will be your friend in a solid chop and when the fish are hanging a little deeper.
Whether you’re making leaders or getting them pre-tapered/pre-made, have a surplus of leaders and tippet material readily available. Especially fluorocarbon bite tippet material in a range of sizes. You’ll run through it very quickly, either from changing flies, changing sizes to get the bite, or hopefully from fish chaffing it up.
Feeding these fish is all about having the right color/size fly in the right spot with the right movement. That’s a lot of things you have to get right so it’s good to have an abundance of options. Experiment. Once you get a fish to bend out and look at the fly, that’s a hint that whatever caught his eye might have a similar effect on the next fish. At that point your foundation is built and it’s time to focus on feeding them.
The general rule for colors is a good starting point: dark flies on dark days or in cloudy water, natural flies throughout the day in clear water, yellow or chartreuse when the sun is high and bright. Try it in both clear and cloudy water.
Worm flies are a great option throughout May and early June as tarpon have a predisposition to eating them. Due to the erratic nature of palolo worms, the worm is the fly that gives you the best chance on bad angle shots.
As tiers you have the luxury of showing these fish something that looks and acts differently from anything they’ve seen in the previous years. From shorter versions of proven tarpon hooks to floating yarns, new cuts of foam, and slimmer rabbit tails, make sure you’re utilizing modern materials to improve your tarpon patterns.
Sure you want to look good for your meeting with the king, but it goes deeper than that. Tarpon on fly is as much a head game as anything and the sun/heat has a direct impact on your performance. Lightweight, moisture-wicking, UV blocking apparel combined with steady hydration is the equation to keeping your head in the game. You’re also going to want a rain jacket aboard when the spring sun showers or afternoon storms roll around.
You’ve almost completed the checklist! The proper accessories will make things easier and make you more efficient. You need to do everything you can to cut glare so you can see every movement the fish makes. This includes a good pair of polarized sunglasses, a hat with a dark underbrim, and a Buff or sun gaiter that you can pull up to block light from coming in behind your glasses.
Gloves will help your hands and fingers in several ways. They’ll prevent sunburn and line burn, they’ll also help keep your hands from getting torn up when you get to grab some face.
Keeping a pair of nippers around your neck and a pair of pliers on your belt allows you to change flies, tighten knots and remove steel quickly without wasting time or fumbling around.