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Tarpon Time! Fly Fishing for Tarpon in the Tampa Bay Area

Updated: Mar 15

May and June offer the best chance to meet up with Silver Kings in the Tampa Bay area. Pods of fish engrained in the annual tarpon migration give you the chance to test your mettle. Fish can be found along the beaches and behind islands along grass flats as they move up and down the coast preparing for their annual spawn. Fly fishing for Tarpon is my preferred method but I also offer trips using convention spinning tackle and artificial lures.

Sight Fishing for Tarpon can be one of the most exciting days you'll ever have on the water. Migrating Tarpon that we target during the summer months can be anywhere from 60 to well over 150 pounds. The average fish for our area is usually around the 100 pound mark. These fish will swim along the beaches, grass flats, and passes moving around in between the next opportunities to spawn around the full and new moons in the summer. This allows us to target them in shallow water off the beaches and flat edges all summer. A well presented fly to a fish coming at the boat will likely be eaten and give an angler with the fight of their life.

If there is a weakness in your game, a Tarpon will show it to you during each and every encounter. A misplaced cast will result in the fish swimming out of the way of your fly. They may even spook and give a monster tail kick on the surface to get out of the way. A poorly tied fly, too short of a leader, or a presentation that moves towards the fish will earn you the same result. When you do get a bite, it takes a sound hook set along with sharp angling skills and calm nerves to even get the fish to take the fly line to the reel. From there it's about knowing when and how to put pressure on the fish to get them to give up. If you want to see one next to the boat a lot of things have to go right. A mistake anywhere in the process will have you flailing around a rod that isn't attached to anything on the other end. Being successful in fishing for Tarpon requires mental toughness. You have to be able to shake off any mistakes made previously in the day and take advantage of the next shot. When you do, you'll be rewarded with flying silver and the opportunity to fight with one of the hardest pulling fish in the Ocean.

Once hooked, It's imperative that the guide and angler work as a team to land the fish as swiftly as possible. The health of the fishery as a whole relies on responsibly releasing fish. You can ensure high rates of survival after catch by following a few practices:

1. Target the fish using correct tackle.

An 11 or 12 weight rod with an IGFA fly leader that will break if needed is necessary. You might need to break the fish off during a fight if it is chased by a shark or during other dangerous situations that may occur along the beach. Spin gear should be heavy powered rods, with an 8ft Heavy power rod being preferable. A 6000 to 10000 size spinning reel with 30-40 pound braid works well. Use a knot to your fluorocarbon bite leader with a know that can also be broken if need be. I like an FG knot because it's easily cast-able and can also be broken by running a gloved hand tightly down the leader. If predators approach a hooked fish on spin gear it is best to open the bail as to release any pressure on the fish until you can scare the shark away or cleanly break the fish off.

2. Keep the fish in the water.

Lifting the fish over the boat, out of the water, or dragging them too far from where they are landed can all damage the fish's internal organs. This drastically reduces their chances of survival after the fight. It is also illegal to remove a fish over 40" out of the water in Florida. While it is important to revive the fish, taking too long to take photos and videos of the fish is equally as damaging. It's best to have a plan with what kind of pictures you'd like to have. Communicate that with your guide prior to hooking a fish. The best practice for reviving a fish is to hold them into some current and allow water to move freely over their gills. Bump the boat in and out of gear to allow the fish to gain its breath and stay upright in the water column. It will begin to swim on its own. Once the fish has regained its strength, push its head down and allow it to swim away. If possible follow the fish for a while to ensure it doesn't get stuck. Lactic acid can build up in the fish keeping it from swimming after a fight.

3. Pull on the Fish

I typically fish a 16 pound break strength with my fly leaders. A FG knot from 30 pound brain to 60 pound fluoro leader makes up the connections for my spin gear. Both setups allow you to put a lot of pressure on a fish. It is hard to initially control a hooked fish because they often jump while making blistering runs. Once settled after the initial chaos, 16 pounds is more than enough strength to control the fish. Maximum pressure should be put on at all times to keep the fish from fighting itself to exhaustion. An angler who isn't afraid to pressure the fish will often land a tarpon in less than 45 minutes. Anglers who are afraid of putting pressure on the fish will be stuck to them for often over two hours. While it is possible that a fish might test you that long with a legitimate fight, it is not the majority of fish. Don't be afraid to pull.

Chasing Tarpon with a fly or artificial lure is not for everyone. Days are often long and physically challenging. Sight fishing for these fish requires a lot of waiting for a good shot. The fish often show up in quick flurries where you'll try to take a lot of shots at fish in a few minutes followed by a few minutes of waiting for the next group of fish to come by. Patience, focus, mental toughness, and grit will get you on the right side of a fight with a Tarpon. Feeding the fish, dealing with their jumps, power, and brute strength is all part of what ends up being an absolute blast of a trip. Book yours today!

Tarpon release off the beach in the Tampa Bay Area

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