Season of the Tarpon – 5 Tips to Land a Tarpon

It’s that time of year! Tarpon season is here! Guides and anglers alike are getting ready for their upcoming trips… I have going on 15 years in pursuit of… in my opinion the greatest game fish on the fly in the world. So to help you catch these magnificent beasts here are a few simple tips that maybe articles or videos have not touched on…


Tip 1. Proper practice habits

I’m constantly teaching my clients whether it’s casting, tying knots, building leaders you name it I teach it. One of the most common mistakes I see when clients get on the boat is when casting to fish they tend to mimic how they practice. I see clients watching the loop in their backcast…  The problem with watching your back cast is you are not watching the fish… A moving fish at that! Which, results in them losing sight of the fish and missing the shot. So when you are practicing, practice like you are fishing find a target aim and fire without watching your back cast. Learn to FEEL the rod load as opposed to watching your loop unfurl and load your rod.


Another bad habit formed in practicing incorrectly is letting go of the line when shooting on your final cast. When practicing most people tend to want to hero cast rather than cast to what is more than likely how you will be fishing. They want to get every inch out of the cast because they want to reach that magic number that someone has manufactured that you need to cast of 80’… This is just not true. Learn to cast to 55-65’ accurately without letting your line go. Learn to do cast it every time overturning your leader that’s all you will ever need.


Tip 2. Proper Leader Design

Without proper leader design, the leader will not efficiently turn over for a proper presentation of the fly. To be more specific on the leader design let’s talk about the butt section of the leader. Specifically the diameter of the butt section. The butt section should be at least 80-90% the diameter size of the fly line. This will ensure a proper and more efficient energy transfer from fly line to leader. When tying a leader it’s best to use at least a medium hard mono until you get to the bite tippet as it is a stiffer material which will help in proper energy transfer and floats higher than Fluorocarbon…


Tip 3. Check your backing

With all the improvements in the backing material, the past decade I.E. different braided material and gel spun backing you still need to check the condition it is in and especially if you still use Dacron backing. When you hook tarpon and it blazes off into the distance dragging fly, leader, line and backing alike when your backing hits the saltwater it soaks it up and will weaken the strength of your backing… I always advise changing out backing every year before your saltwater trip.


Tip 4. Get the slack out

Not even the best casters in the world are perfect every cast. When presenting the fly a lot of times you will “pile” your leader up… At this point every second counts! Get the slack out as quickly as possible… Get the fly moving! You don’t want the fly to start sinking straight down. Generally fish don’t like this because it looks unnatural and they will spook. Shot blown.


Tip 5. Know the situation

When pulling into a spot familiarize yourself with what is going on… Ask your guide questions such as water current direction and speed (this determines how far you want to lead the fish), where do the fish generally come from, are they laid up, or are they cruising? What is the wind direction? This way you can run through all the casting situations while you search for fish. Then, hopefully, have all the situations worked out and minimize problems that may arise…

Captain Joel Dickey is a guide in the Florida Keys who specializes in sight fishing for tarpon, bonefish and permit in the Big Pine Key and lower keys area. He started his guiding career over 20 years ago in North Georgia guiding for trout on the tailwaters and small streams in the area and also guided for bass and striped bass on the local reservoirs. He has been a captain in the Florida Keys for going over 15 years. He was also a certified casting instructor through the Federation of Flyfishers. He is on the advisory staff of Thomas and Thomas Fly Rods, Scientific Anglers, an elite ambassador for Simms and pro staff of several other top companies in the industry. Captain Joel has been featured on several covers of nationally distributed fly fishing magazines along with being featured in one of the industries top selling DVDs “Rise”. His website is and can be reached at for bookings. You can also follow him on Instagram at @captjoeldickey

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