How to Catch a BIG Tarpon
Flies: Back in the 1970s, the idea of using a strip of rabbit fur as the wing for a trout streamer was born. From there, the compulsive imagination of fly tiers took over and one of the most effective trout streamers ever devised – the zonker – was born. It was only a matter of time before saltwater fly fisherman began experimenting with those same strips of rabbit fur, and eventually the fly that I call the Tarpon Zonker was born. What makes these flies so great is the action the rabbit fur imparts in the water with a slow to medium retrieve. It just seems to come alive, and while the fly doesn’t actually resemble anything that lives in the ocean, Tarpon really love them.
Now that I’ve put you on one of the deadliest Tarpon flies I’ve ever fished, you have to be ready before you get to your favorite spot. The night before my charters I make sure that everything is rigged. All of my leaders are hand tied and I use Zap-A-Gap glue on every knot. I store several dozen flies on my leader stretcher so they are ready to fish.
Rods: Your choice of a fly rod and reel is critical, and should be based on the size of the fish you expect to encounter. If you are an expert fly fisherman you may be able to handle a 20-30 pound fish on a 9wt fly rod. For the average fly fisherman my favorite is a St. Croix Legend Ultra 10wt rod. My clients can comfortably handle this rod and it’s easy to cast. If you plan on chasing fish in the 100 pound and up class, then consider a 12wt rod combined with a 13 wt fly line. The heavier line will help you load the rod and ease the stress on your arms. New for 2005 from St. Croix is a 12wt 4-piece rod with a fighting grip on the rod for fighting those really big Tarpon.
Reels: There have been a huge number of large arbor reels appear on the market the last few years. My advice is to stick with a manufacturer that has been building quality reels for years. My reels of choice are Ross Reels, and they been building them since the 1970s which means there’s a great company standing behind the reel. I use the Ross Canyon Big Game Reels in size #6 and #7 for tarpon and a #5 for bonefish. These reels can handle 10-13 wt fly lines and at least 300 yards of backing. My favorite backing is new XTS gel Spun backing from Scientific Anglers. It’s built with a smaller diameter for more capacity. XTS Gel Spun backing allows more reel capacity. This exceptionally small-diameter backing is braided to increase the inherent strength of the material. I use it in 50lb test in bright chartreuse, it’s great stuff and will last for years.
Be Ready: If you are lucky enough to hook a really big fish, take a quick look to make sure any loose fly line isn’t going to snag on the deck. Remember, this isn’t a trout so get the fish on the reel just as soon as you can. Now you can hang on and let the tarpon make its first wild run. This is important, the person running the boat needs to start chasing after the fish right away while you reel like crazy to keep a tight line. You must keep the distance between you and the tarpon as close as possible. The shorter the line, the more leverage you have, allowing you to get that fish to the boat as quickly as possible. Try and get the head out of the water and move it around as much as possible, the more you can move the fish in a direction he doesn’t want to go, the quicker you can get it to the boat, take a photo and release it to fight another day.
Capt. Anderson runs South Of Twenty Angling Adventures on St. Thomas. He specializes in guided fly and light tackle fishing trips for Bonefish, Tarpon, and Snook.