My recent article on small Tarpon elicited several questions about not only what flies to use, but how to use them effectively. Tarpon of any size seem to have their own agenda about what they like to eat at any given time.
According to Donald Larmouth and Rob Fordyce, authors of, ‘Tarpon On Fly,” “Baby Tarpon will eat almost anything you would throw at a Snook, size 2 or size 1/0 Lefty’s Deceivers, Glass Minnows, Sea-Ducers, Bend Backs, Clouser Deep Minnows, popping bugs, gurglers, divers, and the like. Downsized standard Tarpon patterns will also work.”
Tarpon in some of the remote locations where they are pursued infrequently may never have seen an artificial lure, let alone a fly. Their willingness to take your offering can’t be compared to some of our fish that are challenged every day with not only lures, but live baits of every description. I know of several pods of small Tarpon that live in canals or harbors that seem impossible to catch with artificials. Most juvenile tarpon success seems to coincide with their being in a place that is a little distance from their usual haunts. Their reason for being there is the same as most species, the opportunity for an easy meal. Once you identify their food source, duplication will improve your chance for a hookup. I firmly believe that time spent in observation is never wasted, and in fact will shorten the time before you yell, “fish on!”
Remember to match the hatch. Size, color, shape, and action, when duplicated are essential whenever any fish is selective. A recent experience with small Tarpon had them chasing a school of baitfish in shallow water adjacent to their deeper home. A quick cast into the melee with a suitable presentation resulted in instant success.
Small Tarpon are usually not sight fished like their bigger relatives. In the Keys, I have been able to stay with large schools of these fish because certain islands had a resident group that was nearby.
Once spotted rolling on the surface, a stealthy approach with judicious polling put us within casting range. Since water depth was four feet or less, and very clear, their presence was not difficult to track.
Tarpon rolling on the surface allow you to pinpoint their location. Being there at the appearance of first light will be to your advantage. Most baby Tarpon I see rolling are in depths of fifteen feet or more. This rolling activity is usually not associated with feeding, but rather with their air gulping movements. In this situation, I feel their feeding activity is closer
to the bottom rather than the top part of the water column. Tossing flies that are near the surface usually results in frustration. Using a sinking tip fly line with a sinking pattern will occasionally work, but finding fish in shallower water will insure your chances for success. At higher tides, areas that hold Snook will frequently attract these fish. Mangrove shorelines, docks, points, bridge abutments, and any structure that will attract baitfish will put these fish in a more fly friendly mood. My success locally has always improved when I fished structure that was relatively shallow.
A “strip, strip, strip, pause” retrieve; similar to that used for large tarpon, will be a good starting place. Vary this if you get refusals or short strikes. Keep hooks sharp and use a shock tippet of thirty pound test Mason or fluorocarbon. Remember to bow with each jump to prevent a straight line to the gyrating fish that usually results in hooks coming out.
The acrobatics of smaller Tarpon will put a big grin on any fly fisher’s face. I have had them land in the boat as well as in mangroves or branches of trees lying in the water. Once your efforts are rewarded, you will put this smaller Silver King at the top of your “Fun Fish” list.