Tarpon Flies

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Plus extensive information about tarpon fly fishing.
Giants General Tarpon Information Baby Tarpon

Enrico's Tarpon Streamer, Black/Purple

Enrico's Tarpon Streamer, Orange

Enrico's Tarpon Streamer, Red/Black

Tarpon Bunny, Black/Red

Tarpon Bunny, Orange

Caribbean Lobster

Black Death Tarpon

Boca Grande Tarpon Fly


Splayed Roach

Silver King Wings, Earth Tones

Silver King Wings, Black/Red

QT Tarpon Shrimp, Shallow Water

Splayed Tarpon Fly, Marquesa Sunrise

Splayed Tarpon Fly, Lime Tarpon

Splayed Tarpon Fly, Phantom

Tarpon Toad Chartreuse/Yellow

Tarpon Toad,Orange/Tan

Tarpon Toad Purple/Black

Tarpon Toad Yellow/Orange
Wistler, Red/Yellow

Whistler, Red/White

Whistler, Black/Orange

Whistler, Black/Red

Whistler, Orange/Yellow

Giants Of The Florida Keys
In early April schools of giant tarpon start sneaking into "Back Country" ; that amorphous conglomeration of mangrove islands, reefs and flats on the Gulf side of the Florida Keys. In this early season the area around Marathon in the Middle Keys can be loaded with fresh, laid-up tarpon that haven't seen a fly.  Many of these fish will weigh 100-200 pounds.  You can get lots of shots, but don't expect these fish to be easy.  They are shy and hard to hook and when you hook one they will be exceptionally powerful in
A school of giant tarpon prowl the Florida Keys.  Photo Mark Bachmann 2004.

the oxygen rich, cool water.  You better pay close attention to details such as leader knots, backing knots and the durability of your reel.  Big tarpon can dismantle tackle. And they can wear you out physically.  Any tarpon of over a hundred pounds might take a couple hours to land. A tarpon over 150-ponds might take several hours.  Billy Pate's 188-pound record tarpon took him   

nine hours and 35-miles. When it finally came to the boat, it jerked the muscular 275-pound guide overboard into harms way. But that is the attraction.  Hunters that pursue large carnivores look for the same kind of experience.  If the game were easy, it might not have as much attraction. My largest tarpon landed was hooked in the early season off Big Pine Key, Florida. It wasn't big by tarpon standards. The estimate was 135-pounds. It took 2 1/2 hours of pulling my guts out before it finally gave up. To this date it is the largest fish of any kind that I have landed and it is indelibly etched in my mind.    

A giant tarpon tears line of the reel.

Tarpon are hard to see. Laid-up tarpon are the hardest. They look like black logs suspended lazily just below the choppy surface of the water.  You have to see them clearly before you cast.  There is only one end of a tarpon that will eat a fly.  The fly must be cast to exactly the right place in front of his face. Casting gets harder with adrenalin pumping through your veins, but adrenalin is the whole reason for the hunt in the first place. My first big tarpon took fly turning away with such force that the line burnt   groove

Keep your center of gravity low and enjoy the ride.

my hand.  I struck back a couple of times. Then the fish went berserk; rocketing its seven foot long body high into the air several times as the line melted off the reel.  There aren't words that can describe the helpless feeling. The twelve weight rod that felt like such a "stick" before I left Oregon now felt puny against such ferocious power.  After ten minutes and several more sky walking jumps, the hook which had been driven so deep into the flesh pulled free.  Twenty

minutes later the second tarpon took  my fly coming head on toward me and pushed enough slack into the line that I thought it missed the fly completely. Yet as it went on past me the line came tight and a couple of hard jabs buried the hook into the cartilage of her upper lip. Then the fish bolted a couple of hundred yards of backing off the reel without jumping.  It stayed down and nearly half an hour passed before we saw the size of the this fish. Then it jumped twice.  It was

Landing a big tarpon takes endurance.

a little smaller than the first fish.  Tarpon are able to gulp air into their swim bladders and absorb oxygen from  the atmosphere.  This action enables tarpon to live in oxygen 

Mark and Capt. Chris.

starved water or supercharge themselves as they are being played on a hook and line.  The trick is to keep a fish from gulping by pulling its head down by sticking your rod under water and giving it a "down and dirty".  I wasn't able to keep my big tarpon from gulping and the fight went on for two and one half hours.  Finally my guide grabbed the tarpon by the lower jaw with both hands and hoisted it across the bow of the boat for a quick length measurement  and a picture.  It was 78"; easily the largest tarpon I had ever landed.   It was returned to the water where it revived  instantly.  I, however was exhausted. 

The Florida Keys fishery is so compelling that it has set the standard for tarpon fly development. Keys Style flies can be found here, and here. The flies that are current favorites with Florida guides, are Toads.

Tarpon. Tarpon have been called "The Silver King"....King of fly rod game fish. The reputation is well deserved. Big tarpon can be truly intimidating. Medium size tarpon can be exhausting. Baby tarpon can be exhilarating, miniature replicas of their behemoth parents.

Tarpon remind me of over-sized, lazy trout in a very rich lake. They have their feeding cycles but don't waste any energy. They are however, capitalistic feeders and will often take nearly any fly if it is really easy to catch. A straight-on shot will usually get results. The odds go way up if the fly is presented at a level slightly above the fish's eyes and retrieved at a pace to keep it about two feet ahead of his nose for at least five seconds.  Fly action is important. Flies that have a lot of wiggly, flowing materials are most productive. Tarpon are nearly like steelhead

Big tarpon.

Baby tarpon.

in that they move freely between fresh and salt water. Tarpon can migrate many miles inland, up rivers and roam head water lakes and creeks. Tarpon easily feed in jungle rivers that are very turbid. At times, usually during freshets, tarpon seem to enjoy the cover of muddy water. As in all rivers, when there is bed load shift, there are a lot of prey species exposed for exploitation. Tarpon within these turbid rivers can be very aggressive feeders.  The greatest of these turbid tarpon rivers in Central America is the Rio Colorado, which is the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Silt load

from the Rio Colorado stains the blue water of the Caribbean for several miles out to sea. Tarpon school here in unbelievable numbers. The trick is getting them to find your fly in the muddy water.  Dan Blanton has fished this area a lot. He reasoned that if tarpon couldn't see the fly, maybe they could hear it. He fastened large, hollow bead-chain eyes to a bulky fly. It was an instant success. The holes in the bead chain act the same as air blown across an open pop bottle. They whistle. That is what he called it, the Whistler. Whistlers are productive anywhere tarpon hold in deep or muddy water.

Baby Tarpon
Smaller tarpon like areas where fresh water or black water creeks flow from mangrove forests. There are many such places along the coast lines of Mexico and Belize. A typical day of baby tarpon fishing is chronicled here for instruction:

Mark Bachmann with a typical Campeche tarpon...

Along the coast of Campeche, Mexico, our guide, Juan poled the panga toward the mouth of the tiny black-water creek. Several small tarpon rolled with their dark backs and sharp dorsal fins showing above the surface of the dark water.  The pungent-sulfur smell of the mangrove swamp filled my nostrils.  The eight rod was loaded for the cast.  The red and white fly sailed through the air and landed with a quiet splat.  One strip, two strips...the water exploded as a tarpon felt the bite of steel.  It vaulted high into the air with it's gill-plates rattling.  The 30-pound leader broke and the fish was gone...that fast.  "Ten or eleven kilos", said Juan about the lost fish.  Then we examined the frayed leader.  I reached for my tackle bag and tied on a-foot of 40-pound

fluorocarbon for a bite tippet. My second fish came only a few minutes later, but threw the hook on the third jump. Five minutes later a small pod of tarpon showed themselves forty feet off the bow, and a third fish was hooked, and this time landed.  It probably weighed about ten pounds, which seems to be the average for the waters around Campeche.  During our five days of fishing Campeche, we never hooked a tarpon smaller than 5-pounds, although several were close.  We each hooked one fish that was larger than twenty-pounds.  Both were lost to leader breakage. 
Black Creek flows from the Belizian coast just north of Monkey River Town. If you don't know where it is, you will never find it. The opening to the ocean is so small  and shallow that it is easily missed in the jagged wall of giant mangroves.  One morning Patty, Mark Stensland, Derek Mushchamp and I entered Black Creek in the gloomy dawn. After the tiny opening, the creek opens up and several hundred yards inland it becomes a black water lagoon covering about ten acres. A half a dozen tiny creeks flow gently from the mangroves at the head end of the lagoon. It is a primordial place completely walled in by thirty foot tall mangroves. It is an oily black, sulfur smelling lake completely cut off from the rest of the world.  For some reason small tarpon often congregate here in large numbers. This morning was no exception. Patty, Stens and I jumped a dozen tarpon between eight and thirty pounds in a couple of hours. Then the sun climbed over the top of the mangroves. The black water and the dead calm air turned our little piece of paradise into and oven.  Short jacket flies, a blood sucking nuisance of the Central American tropics began to target our sweating skins. Stens, who is a light blond of Norwegian descent applied a liberal layer of sun screen. On top of that was applied a slathering of insect repellent. Unknowingly he had just created one of the finest lubricants ever produced by man. A tarpon rolled to the surface of the black water seventy feet from the boat. Stens grabbed his favorite baby tarpon gun, a sage RPLX with his cherished shiny black Abel number-2 Big Game reel.  His cast landed the orange grizzly fly in the rings of the rise and he began stripping the fly back to the boat. Nearly thirty feet of line were retrieved before the tarpon took the fly. The strike was so savage that the rod handle slipped from Sten's slippery hand and the only contact with the fish was the line in his stripping hand.  The rod shot twenty feet from the boat and bounce around on the water as the fish jumped repeatedly. A string of four letter words filled the quiet air and the other three of us were laughing so hard that we were no help. The thirty pound tarpon was finally hand-lined to the boat, the rod was recovered and the fish's picture hangs on the ceiling beam of our shop.
Another adventure with Derrick Muschamp took us deep into the Belizian jungle. His friend Frankie, had told us about a tarpon lagoon at the head end of Boom Creek a tiny black water tributary of the Sittee River. We used Derrick's skiff, and for several miles the creek was so narrow there was no place to turn around, and as we had jumped the boat over several party sumerged logs that spanned the creek, there was no way to back out.  We were getting very nervous that we had marooned ourselves when the creek opened into a beautiful lagoon ringed with tall mangroves intertwined with vines ladened with huge sweet smelling trumpet shaped flowers. Here tiny trout- sized tarpon from 18" to 22" ate an epoxy headed fly we dubbed the Boom Creek Special. It was Patty's turn to be the big winner. She even landed a tarpon that took the fly on a low back-cast.
One November found us in Naples Florida, fishing with Captain Bob Marvin at night. Naples is cut up with dredged canals and water front trophy houses with lighted private docks. some dock lights are of sufficient intensity that they attract schools of bait fish and the predatory fish that come to harvest them, such as jack crevelle, snook and tarpon. Bob, Patty and I were stationed off just such a dock with our navigation lights turn off. We are invisible in the darkness and it was my turn on the bow. A man and women inside the house were clearly visible through their huge plate glass window. They were clearly unaware we were watching. A tarpon rolled under their dock. My cast fell true and the fifteen pound fish was landed in as many minutes. As I released the tarpon, the man in the house raised his martini to his lips as if to toast my accomplishment. I toasted him back with a bottle of Gatoraide.

Tarpon this size are like a cross between steelhead and large mouth bass...

The same flies that work for adult tarpon seem to work fine for baby tarpon as well. Old favorites like the Cockroach and Orange Grizzly are consistent producers as well as new patterns like the Tarpon Screamer.  White flies with pearl flash and a little bit of red or hot pink seem to be most productive as well.

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