Hey SFOTF! Dale “Bulldog” Freschi here. I wanted to come to you today and talk about the Tarpon for our FISH FOCUSED feature
Tarpon are arguably the ultimate tropical big game fish to catch on a cast fly. They have rock hard mouths which makes it difficult to plant the hook and when you do get a hook into them, they typically begin a series of spectacular leaps often throwing the hook in the process. They vary in size from under 25 pounds (babies), juveniles around 40 to 60 pounds and the adults and migrating fish which can get enormous at well over 100 pounds.
In Cuba,we found them milling around in the mangroves, feeding on shallow flats and rolling in deeper water off the reefs. In general terms we typically found the babies in the mangroves, the juveniles on the flats and the adults rolling off the reef. We did, however, have many pleasant surprises when larger adult fish were hooked in the mangroves and on the flats. The most amazing thing about fishing for Tarpon in the clear water of Cuba is that in the vast majority of cases you are “sight” fishing as opposed to “blind” casting. I don’t think my heart has ever beat faster that casting my fly to a huge Tarpon and actually watching them swim up and eat it.
Our recommended setup consists of a 12 weight rod, large disc drag reel with at least 200 yards of backing, a clear intermediate fly line and specialty Tarpon leader. This setup worked best overall even in deeper water as the Tarpon were rolling near the surface. We also utilized a secondary setup with a 10 weight rod and floating line to target the smaller Tarpon in shallow water and mangroves. There are many Tarpon flies to choose from and most imitate bait fish or crustaceans. Our top producers in Cuba were Tarpon Toads and various Enrico Puglisi patterns like the peanut butter.
Dale’s Fish Focused TIP:
There are a variety of different Tarpon leaders and many include specialty knots like the Bimini twist, but the most important aspects are their ability to absorb shock, and having a very thick/strong tippet section, often 80 to 100 pound test line. Tarpon mouths are very abrasive and many large fish are lost due to the fish “sawing” through the tippet after a long battle. A Tarpon leader should always also include a section of line with a breaking strength of around 20 to 25 pounds; this is a necessary safeguard to help prevent catastrophes when your line inevitably gets wrapped around your leg or behind your reel.
A technique know as “bowing to the fish” is widely used during the fight when the Tarpon is jumping, which provides slack in the line when the fish is in the air.
This is more easily watched than explained, and can be seen in numerous Cuba episodes in series 17, 18 and 19 of SFOTF. Also, be sure to catch an exciting new Tarpon episode in Series 22 airing in Spring 2017.