The Keys Chronicles (Pt. 4)

Barjack Tight to an Oceanside Tarpon

June 13, 2008

This is a lesson I learned well on that first real tarpon trip: make the first shot count. I’d say that ninety percent of the time the first shot was the only real shot. And that’s where most of the bites came. You can definitely pick up and recast, but it’s not as easy as that. For one thing, a tarpon-taper fly line [8] is very hard to pull off the water if you have more than about forty feet out.  For another, that takes time, which you don’t have. Migrating tarpon are, by definition, moving, sometimes quickly. (Of course, the faster the fish is swimming the smaller your chances are of hooking it anyways, but you’ve still got to take the shot. [9]) Even if you somehow collect your dismembered faculties and do manage to recast successfully, if you’ve already shown the lead fish your fly and she’s ducked it, that means you’ve already alerted the rest of her followers that something’s up. Instead of showing your fly to a group of relatively unsuspecting tarpon, you’ll be trying to convince fish that are on their guard to eat something when that’s not what they want to do in the first place.

Oh, yeah. Did I forget to mention that? There’s some evidence to suggest that traveling tarpon are similar to migrating salmon in that they don’t eat. Of course, the hundreds of salmon and tarpon hooked every year while migrating mock this theory, but it’s basically true. Tarpon do eat while migrating, but that seems to be more of a nighttime activity that takes place in the passes. When they’re actually traveling you can show your fly to literally dozens of tarpon before one decides to eat. But, that’s just part of the game; trying to keep the faith and believe in that first cast is, for me, the secret to tarpon fishing.

8 Lines designed especially for tarpon fishing are basically shooting heads — a short, fat, heavy front section that’s designed to quickly load the rod with a minimum of false casting and carry heavy flies the distance. This is followed by the  running line which is much thinner and lighter — to reduce air resistance and make it easy to cast great distances. Tarpon tapers only differ from typical shooting heads in that they float. It’s somewhat complicated to explain, but trust me when I say that it’s very tough to pickup a tarpon line and re-present the fly without first stripping the shooting head back into the guides. [back]
9 After all, fishing is what you came for and actually casting at the fish is part of that, no matter how hopeless it seems. You can’t just stand around all day not casting at fish. [back]

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