Tarpon Fly Fishing Techniques

Tarpon Fly Fishing in the Florida Keys is NOT a once in a lifetime experience. Once you have experienced the thrill of fighting a large fish and the excitement of a Tarpon on the fly you will come back again and again for more. If you would like to try like tarpon fly fishing, I will help you find and land the big one with our Tarpon Fly Fishing Techniques!
Tarpon Fly Fishing

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There are two species of Tarpon, or Megalops (from the Greek, translated to “large-eyed”). One is native to the Atlantic, and the other to the Indo-Pacific. Tarpon can live in saltwater, brackish water, and even in freshwater. They change habitats at different periods in their lives. They grow 5–8 ft. long and weigh 80-280 lbs — there is even a myth about a 350 pounder, but no actual record of one that big ever having been caught.

Female Tarpon are larger than the males and they are estimated to live up to 80 years. Silver King, and Poon, are two of the many names anglers and guides have called this elusive and powerful sport fish.


What do Tarpon Eat?

Adult Tarpon are strictly carnivorous and eat pinfish, mullet, crabs, shrimp, and worms. They swallow their food whole and normally hunt at night. That said, Tarpon are opportunistic and when presented with a chance to feed during the day they will sometimes eat.

In Islamorada, the Tarpon’s favorite food is the palolo worm, which hatches every year in the water of the southern Keys on low falling tides on a new moon. It is very common to fish with a fly imitating this funny little worm.

How do you catch a tarpon on a fly?

“When hooked, a Tarpon can leap six feet out of the water, shaking its head from side to side. This amazing jumping ability is a major reason why it has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular sport fish in Florida.”

If you want to go fly fishing for Tarpon, practice your casting.– casting into the wind can be especially humbling. You will have opportunities 10 feet or less from the boat so accurate fly placement will mean the difference between your Tarpon inhaling your fly, jumping (fly the mouth, fish in the air) or ignoring your fly altogether.

When Tarpon fly fishing, you have around a 10-inch window on either side of their nose. On rare occasions, they will swim over 3-7 feet to get your fly but only if you are incredibly lucky.

Put the fly in front of the Tarpon and be sure it is moving away to imitate prey swimming away from a threat. Tarpon have huge eyes and see very well so fishing guides recommend you use a smaller fly. It is amazing you can catch a 100-pound monster in the Florida Keys with a fly about an inch-and-a-quarter long with a hook no bigger than your smallest fingernail.

One thing that is important to remember is that a Taropn’s mouth is incredibly hard, so it is important to make sure you have sharp hooks fly fishing hooks. If you drag your hook on the bottom or bump the boat or push pole while fishing, be sure to check and replace your hook if it has dulled.

When the line comes tight, strip set the hook (for you trout fishermen this does not mean raising your rod) and nail it home 2-3 times before the fish explodes out of the water. If you get it wrong, the Tarpon will throw the hook. Losing a Tarpon due to a bad set is still an exciting day fly fishing, but not as much fun as having your photo taken with a 100 pounder in your lap.

Fly Rod

What size fly rod for tarpon?

For fishing Tarpon, the rule of thumb is an 11-12 wt fly rod and 300 yards of backing however rods of 10 weight or less can be used. When fishing juveniles in the mangroves.

Most professional guides these days are recommending going a bit lighter, in the 10 -11 weight range, claiming that the lighter rod is easier to cast, especially if you are fishing all day. If in doubt, an 11wt is the perfect compromise — it will be easier to land a bigger fish more quickly than with a lighter rod.

It is important to make sure that you match your rod with an appropriate saltwater reel, Whatever you choose, durability is important, Tarpon are hard on fishing equipment, especially if it is your first time out!

See our post here on the Best Saltwater Fly Rods to see the best for you.

Where is the best place to catch Tarpon?

There are only a few areas on the globe considered to be the best place to catch tarpon. Among all of these places, Islamorada in the Florida Keys is the perfect destination for Tarpon fly fishing.

From Islamorada, you can reach many active Tarpon fishing areas in the Keys. based on weather, wind, and tides. On a really windy day when young Tarpon seek shelter in the mangroves, you can run up to the backcountry of the Everglades to try for juveniles on lighter rods and light tackle.  You will have a great time light tackle fly fishing for young Tarpon, and learning about how to catch one of the adults.

Be prepared for some lessons (if you like), lots of stories from your guide, and ample opportunities to practice on real fish. We find many Tarpon about 200-300 yards from shore in 4-8 feet of water.  Sight casting to a 100 pounder is a thrill you must experience at least once in your life.

If you want to know whether you need a practice fly rod, see our post here.

Keep Tarpon

Is it illegal to keep Tarpon?

Not only is it illegal to keep Tarpon, it is illegal to take a fish over 40 inches out of the water unless you are in pursuit of a state or world record and using a special tarpon bag.

Thanks in part to catch and release practices, anglers are always going to have a great chance to catch one these fish.  Tarpon are in good numbers all over the Florida Keys.  There Nowhere better is there a chance to do battle with one of these beasts than in the Florida Keys.

Can Tarpon be restocked?

Unlike many other types of fish, Tarpon cannot simply be restocked. It is extremely important to take special care of the Tarpon Fishery because not enough is known about this species. It is believed they breed offshore in very deep isolated areas. Females can lay up to 12 million eggs at once. They reach sexual maturity once they are about 6-7 seven years old and about 50 inches long.

Spawning usually occurs in late spring to early summer and as you may know, it’s a great time to see a lot of Tarpon. When Spawning or migrating to spawn they have other things on their mind and on some days will ignore any fly or bait you throw at them. The exciting part is that these fish (big fish) are found year-round in Islamorada.

The bigger fish are thought to live fifty years or more and must be protected.

It is extremely important to treat your catch carefully to ensure the Tarpon fishery in the Florida Keys continues you prosper. Try not to stress the fish too much and you will learn many techniques from your guide to bring the tarpon to the boat in as little as 15 minutes.

Think how damaging fighting a big fish for 4 hours could be to both you and the fish. The idea is to enjoy the fight and spectacular jumps, and of course, release the fish unharmed. We are dedicated to protecting the “Silver King” so that your children and your children’s children can enjoy this sport.

What is the best time of Year for Fly Fishing Tarpon?

The best time of the year to go fly fishing for Tarpon starts in April and runs through July. Islamorada holds Tarpon almost all year round (resident fish) and when the pressure is off, well the pressure is off. There may be fewer to catch, but an un-harassed Tarpon may be more receptive.

The month of June is when you will find the most anglers, coming in from all different parts of the world, targeting these fish.  Catching a trophy fish can be difficult but in my opinion, any Tarpon is a trophy. Seriously, you’ll need to plan way ahead for this sort of trip and finding an open guide can be a real challenge.

Each year, tarpon migrate up and down the coast of Florida in great numbers. These fish come here to begin their mating rituals.  When not aggressively feeding during the day, a well-placed cast with fly or bait will often produce results.

Wrap Up

Fly fishing Florida will reward even the most experienced fisherman. But before you head to the Florida Keys, you need to know a few details about these fish and their habits. Learning about these big fish will make your fly fishing more successful. Whether you are a seasoned angler or new to fishing, these fish and their acrobatic displays are a thrill to see and catching just one will create memories that last a lifetime.

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