Updated: Nov 18
Tarpon, aka the “Silver King” is by far the most elusive species to swim in the inshore waters of Florida. Whether that’s catching this fish as a 10lb juvenile or a 130lb grown female you better hold on tight and enjoy the show. Tarpon are one of the hardest fish to not only set the hook to but they are also extremely difficult to land. This is due to there hard mouths, acrobatic jumps and the will power they have to stay away from boat side. When targeting this species you have to be patient and respect this fish. Even the best of anglers who are dialed into tarpon fishing may have days with no fish boat side. Somedays they will be eating every bait thrown in there way and then other days they'll want nothing to do with it. Also Tarpon are huge migratory fish so they tend to move out of certain spots and areas quick as they slowly make there way to spawning grounds. For me I have experienced this first hand and my understanding and respect for this fish has grown dramatically. Tarpon fishing is on the top of my list each and every year now because they are that addicting to pursue.
Summer is prime time tarpon fishing and anglers from all over travel to both coasts to experience this migratory fish. The main months for tarpon fishing are May, June, and most of July. During these months there are big full moons which provide massive incoming and outgoing tides. Being from the west coast (Gulf Coast) our tarpon fishing is a little different then the east coast. I say this because the east coast has a phenomenon known as the mullet and shrimp run. The tarpon school up along beaches and passes and feed on large schools of mullet and shrimp as they flush through certain areas. As for the west coast we experience a massive crab flush. These huge outgoing tides carry hundreds of blue crabs and pass crabs through bridges, passes and open bays. Tarpon, who have large eyes that are made for feeding upwards, prey on these crabs as they flush through these areas. To be out on the water and witness hundreds of tarpon rolling, getting airborne and feeding on these small crabs is truly an awesome site.
Tarpon can be targeted several different ways by using live bait, artificial and of course by fly. Living on the west coast I mainly use blue crabs and pass crabs but another quality bait to have as well is a threadfin hearing. When using crabs you are mainly sight casting rolling schools or you are drifting them through the current of a pass or bridge. Depending on the depth of the water it is important to use a cork bobber. Like I mentioned earlier tarpon feed upwards so for example if you're in shallow water use a float to keep the bait towards the top. You can get away with not using a bobber but you risk your bait sinking to the sea floor, which you could then miss an opportunity. As for deeper water you have the freedom to free line a bait although I recommend having both options out just to test how the fish are feeding. When I fish threadfin I utilize the same techniques. Sometimes I will free line my bait and sometimes I will have it under a cork bobber, it all depends on the water depth. Recently I have been introduced to a newer technique with these threadfins and its simply chunking these baits and creating a chum slick in the current. Then you’re simply cutting the back end of your threadfin off and dropping it back in the chum line. I have yet to try this but I have witnessed and heard the effectiveness from this technique. For me I believe this approach works best when the fish are more spread out rather then being in large pods. I get the feeling that the Tarpon are slowly gathered by the chum line and this could invite a lot of fish towards your way. The only issue when utilizing this style is you're going to have to weed through some sharks and other not so popular species.
I am also a huge artificial enthusiast so I will generally have a rod rigged up ready to throw at rolling tarpon. Obviously, the Hogy Lure Company makes some amazing baits, but I also have thrown Spooltek lures and Zman soft plastics. These are all popular choices when targeting tarpon and sometimes you can produce a great bite if live bait is not an option. Along with artificial there is fly fishing, which is something I have yet to fully take part in. Fly fishing nowadays is probably one of the most popular and exciting ways to target tarpon. When throwing a fly you're basically hunting these fish like you would an animal from land. Just imagine yourself standing on the bow of the boat slowly pursuing and stalking a chain of fish or perhaps one single fish. Then making such a precise cast that you allow the tarpon to eat a fly thats the size of your thumb or smaller. This takes experience, is a learned skill and is something you must be patient with. Landing a tarpon boat side with a fly rod is very difficult but the reward for doing so is unbeatable.
All of these techniques discussed in this blog are my favorite options when targeting summer time Tarpon. These styles have worked the best for me but there are even more ways to produce fish boat side that I didn't cover. Overall it’s really about getting out on the water as much and as often as possible and figuring these fish out. I always say this but record your days and do your homework so you can have a future reference for when and how to target Tarpon. Also stay tuned for more fly fishing posts, tips and videos when targeting inshore species!
My older brother (Jamison Sweat) has become a huge fly fisherman and is quite good! As Twin Tails continues to grow I will introduce him more and he will feature some of his own techniques and tactics with a fly rod. I will leave a link below so you can visit his Instagram page and check out his popular catches with a fly rod! Enjoy!