The emotion of sheer adrenaline that follows hooking a Tarpon on the fly is unparalleled by anything in fly fishing. It is no wonder they are one of the world’s most sought-after saltwater gamefish, with shiny scales the size of a grapefruit and dramatic aerial displays. Tarpon fishing is also far from a walk in the park, your mental approach plays as big of a part as any in the equation.
TIP 1: Just Breathe.
This is first on the list, as being in control of your nerves is the foundation for successful saltwater fly fishing. When the window of opportunity strikes without warning, as it often does chasing Tarpon, you must be able to react (or not) to the situation at hand. A great exercise is to focus solely on your breath before you make a cast. If you’re lucky, there is a time buffer between when your guide will see the fish and when you have a logical shot to take. Use this time to relax your mind and body, and your chances of making a well-executed cast are drastically improved.
TIP 2: DON’T LIFT THE ROD!
For a trout fisherman it can be a difficult urge to fight, but lifting the rod when the fish eats the fly can be detrimental in making a proper hook set. Keeping the rod low and strip-setting with the fly line will drive the hook in with the pressure it needs to penetrate their bony mouths.
TIP 3: Study the Fishery Beforehand
What is the primary feed where you’re fishing? Will you be fishing brackish, off-coloured water in which the flies must hold a large profile and push water? Will you be fishing primarily juvenile or giant, migratory Tarpon? Preparing for your trip is not something to be taken lightly. Talk to people who have invested time in the fishery, or consider booking a trip through a booking agent.
TIP 4: Clear Your Line at all Costs
When a Tarpon eats boat-side, the angler is often left with a heap of line on the ground and a beast on the other end of it that is now in full control. There are few things more deflating than watching the line wrap around the reel seat and feeling the leader break your class tippet, if you have a friend in the skiff it never hurts to ask for help with ensuring the line clears smoothly.
TIP 5: Choose the Right Leader
Leaders for Tarpon fishing are often not very long, but ensuring you are using heavy or light enough material for the situation is imperative. Tarpon leaders consist of a butt section, a class section, and bite tippet. The class tippet is lighter in diameter than both the butt and the bite tippet, providing a breakable link in the leader should it be needed. A few factors that come into play when building a leader such as the size of fish, water clarity and angling pressure. Lighter bite tippets constructed of fluorocarbon can be effective in periods of high sun, flat water, or fish that receive ample amounts of pressure. I use Scientific Anglers tippet material to make my tarpon leaders, you can check out their full line here.
Lastly, have fun with it! Tarpon fishing is difficult, but the rewards always outweigh the effort when the line comes tight. There will be days when not one fish seems to want to commit, and days where you just flat out cannot find the fish. Regardless, find as much time to bask in the opportunity to chase this magnificent gamefish. Tarpon fishing is electric, humbling, and downright addicting.