Getting Ready for Tarpon on a Fly


If I was ever told I could only fly fish for one species of fish for the rest of my life it would not even take one heart beat to answer it. “Tarpon”, would come out of my mouth before the question was even finished. The hunt, the presentation of the fly, the overall experience is something I will never get over. Thirty three years on the water and I still get the same feeling as I did the first day I ever saw one roll.

By mid April you should start to see Tarpon showing up all along our shorelines. These are big breeder Tarpon 100 to 200 pound fish and some bigger Tarpon will be spread out all along the west coast of Florida. From Homosassa to Boca Grade you will find the most productive Tarpon waters in the world.

The following is some things that might help you get ready for the “Silver King”

Getting Ready for the King

Preparation is by far the most important thing you have to do. I have seen some bad cases of Tarpon fervor over the years. In fact I had one last year were the angler froze when the tarpon took the fly. It was incredible. The Tarpon took the fly and just sat there 40 feet away. The angler did the same. It was a standoff until the Tarpon exploded and the angler just stood there in amazement. It all took 10 seconds and the Tarpon was gone and the angler was standing on the boat with his mouth wide open wondering what just happened.

You think this only happens now and then? WRONG! It happens a lot. Like planning a good hunt you should go thought the whole drill in your mind and practice as much as possible. Practice your casting; stripping and making sure you keep your line clear from anything that it might get caught on. Be calm in practice and carry that calm with you onto the boat. It is one of your most important tools. Tarpon fervor will kill your opportunities every time.

Keep your clothing clear of anything that can hang a line up. If you have laces on your deck shoes tape over them, shirts with buttons can be a problem, belts with knives and holsters, wristwatches, etc. If there is something that line can snag on your line will find it. So take the time to really inspect everything on yourself and on the boat.


I don’t care if you are fishing in the areas that get the most press like Homosassa or Boca Grade the fishing all along the coast between those two towns is the same. Tarpon Springs, Clearwater Beach, Long Boat Key, it’s all the same. The Tarpon are moving most of the time. You have just as good a shot at big Tarpon all along the coast so why should everyone pile up in one place? I will never figure it out. People jam the waters all around the Homosassa River and it is not necessary. Spread out!

Spreading out and not having a lot of boats around is a big plus. So you don’t have to go far from home to hunt one these big Tarpon. The less boats the less spooky fish you have to deal with and the easier it is to get within casting range.

The best locations are the beaches lets use Anclote Key in Tarpon Springs as an example only because that’s were I fish. The bottom along the beaches of our coast is just about the same geographic structure. Sandy bottom, patches of grass a few rocks here and there. If you were to a look underwater it would all basically look the same. I like to hunt for rolling fish in 5 to 12 feet of water. They will more then likely be moving south. In late April and May you can just about count on it. There are locations on the inside of the barrier islands like between Dunedin & Honeymoon Island that they will also migrate. However, I like to stick to the beaches. So location is easy and should not be a problem for anyone. There is a lot beach to choose from. Early morning and late afternoon is best for Fly-fishing.


Anything less then a 12wt rod is not a good idea. If you can’t get the Tarpon in the air it’s hard to ware them down. When they jump they take on more oxygen and that releases enzymes that slow the Tarpon down. I use a good quality floating or Intermediate lines and leaders with an 80-pound bite leader. IGFA has good instructions on their web site on how to tie it up correctly. I use PowerPro line for backing. It’s smaller in diameter and you can get a lot more on your reel, 30 pound is what I use, however, you can get away with 25 if don’t have a wide arbor reel. In short you will need all the backing you can get on your reel.


The Cockroach is by far my most productive fly. The standard color is best, There is new fly out that Dan’s Custom Flies makes called a Cream Puff that I am very interested in seeing how its works around these waters this season. It worked excellent on one of recent trips to Belize. Make sure you store your flies in stretching box so the leaders stay nice and straight.

The Hunt

I like to position my boat very close to the beach in 2 to 3 feet of water and move from South to north looking for rolling Tarpon. Once I find a pod I try to work to them very slow or even let them come to me. A fast moving pod is not your best shot so ether follow them or look for a pod that has stopped and is Daisy Chaining, then start you approach. You should know well in advance of your casting limits so stay as far away as you can. Once you have gotten within casting range then the rest is up to you.

Poling or Trolling? This is big issue with a lot of Guides. If you even mention trolling motors around some old school guides they will snarl at you. Their concern is the noise that the motor put out. They’re right in most cases and I pole whenever I can. However, I use both. If the water is too deep I use the electric motor. I have hundreds of clients that will support the fact that you can get close to Tarpon using them. Most of the time I can get within 40 to 50 feet without spooking them if everything is set up right. If you are going to use a trolling motor keep this in mind. First of all make sure your prop is balanced so it don’t give off any vibrations. Don’t run it to the point that you can hear it running, remember if you can hear it that sound is much more amplified in the water. So go slow. If the water is choppy you have to make sure that the prop stays in the water.

In closing, remember that perpetration and staying calm is the most important tool you have when hunting Tarpon. Keep clear of other boats and remember that there is lots of beach on our coast to hunt for them. Stealth is very important. Keep your equipment in ready condition and remember that your clothing is part of the preparation.

If your follow some these little tips and you can get within your casting rang get a fly on top them, hang on and get ready for the Air Show.
If you have any questions about Tarpon fishing on a Fly drop me an email at

Tight lines and good fishing.

Capt Gene Zamba
Florida Fishing & Hunting Adventures
Tarpon Springs, FL


CapMel Staff
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