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How Beginners Can Get Started With Fly Fishing the Tarpon

Ever since Red Sox slugger and outdoorsman Ted Williams mentioned the area in his famous How To Fly-Cast magazine article in the 1960s, Islamorada in the Florida Keys has been a favorite destination for anglers from all over the world. You can fish for barracuda, permit, bonefish, and sharks, but the local favorite is tarpon. The area around Islamorada is teeming with these “Silver Kings” from the late winter into the summer. It’s fairly easy to figure out when you can fish for tarpon anywhere along the Florida coast. When the water temperature reaches 75 degrees, tarpon will be traveling through on their way to their summertime home off of the Carolinas.
Atlantic tarpon

Tarpon Can Test The Strongest Anglers

Tarpon can test any angler’s ability, and they can get big enough to snap a rod. The record tarpon for Florida waters came in just under 250 pounds. It’s challenging and fun to fly fish for tarpon on light equipment. You can use a 10 or 12-weight fly rod, floating lines, and heavy mono leaders. Flies for tarpon don’t vary much. The most common variations are to make the flies more attractive to other fish like stripers or redfish.


Fly fishing for tarpon requires a different technique than going for other Florida sport fish. You need to be more precise when presenting your hook to tarpon than with other fish, so medium range casts are preferred to trying to open up the bail and making long casts. About 50 feet is a perfect length, close enough to watch the trajectory of the fish as it glides through the water, but not close enough to spook it.

Timing Is Important

The clear water that the tarpon favors will help you to plan the timing of your casts, but their speed makes it as much an art as a science. You’ll have to be especially careful if your boat is drifting directly toward or away from your prey. If you’re drifting toward them, they’ll close too fast and you’ll lose your chance to get your fly jigging in time to attract the fish’s attention. If you’re drifting away, it’s important to have the patience to wait until you are sure the tarpon will be presented with your fly in the strike zone they prefer.

Tarpon Are Fast

Tarpon are easy to spot because they cruise along so much faster than other fish you’ll encounter in the salt water flats they favor. That’s because tarpon are night-feeding fish, and won’t go out of their way to grab your fly unless it looks like an easy meal. If you cast late, you’ll hit the water too close and spook them. Even the biggest tarpon will run away from anything that comes right at them.

Your Hooks Need to Be Sharp

Tarpon have big eyes and a huge, gaping mouth, and if you present your hook properly, they’ll devour it on the run. Your hooks need to be very sharp to get a set in their very hard jaws, however. If you get a few strikes but can’t set the hook, try filing your hooks to a well-formed triangular point. It still takes more technique to set the hook than with other game fish. Anglers need to be patient and wait until you’re sure the line has no slack left and you begin to feel the weight of the fish. Experts advise setting the hook with three or four quick jerks on the line, performed with the tip of the rod low to the water instead on one, high strike.

Tarpon Travel In Big Schools

Tarpon will try to rejoin their schoolmates as if they didn’t have a hook in their mouths. If you’re using light tackle, the jostling of tails and scales can part your line. Try to lead your tarpon away from the activity in the water, and keep him towing the whole weight of your boat to wear him out faster. Always take back line at every opportunity. Resist the urge to tighten the drag or the line will probably part when the fish makes a violent maneuver. When he’s finally close to the boat and tiring, you can dip the tip of the rod in the water while keeping the pressure on, which disorients tarpon and can make them roll over at the gunwale.


Most tarpon are sturdy enough to withstand a lip gaff, or you can hold its lower lip with a gloved hand if you think he’s tried out enough. It’s usually a bad idea to bring a big tarpon on board with you, and many anglers take their pictures of their prizes while the fish is being revived in the water before release. There’s no more exciting fish to catch while fly-casting, and it’s memorable to watch a big one swim off after you’ve released him.

Definitely watch how pro`s are doing it:


Check News section for tournaments and tarpon related info.


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