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Backwater Basics to Catching Juvenile Tarpon On The Fly with TFO Ambassador Logan Totten

With Spring in full affect down in Southwest Florida, the temperatures are warming up, and the rain is right around the corner. This means a few things, the most important to most fly fisherman, is that juvenile and baby tarpon season is upon us. Being eager to eat flies, pull hard, fight mean and always so acrobatic – these little guys are dream fish for many anglers.

Tarpon are often seen rolling when they come up for air, which can make them fun to fish for, and it’s also a great way to locate them. Early morning in the spring in summer is of the best times to locate these rolling fish. Finding these little guys can be difficult, so here are a few tips I have picked up to be more affective while targeting small tarpon on the fly rod.

 

Location & Depth Changes

Finding the right fish for fly fishing can mean the difference in actually catching fish or just casting all morning at rolling fish. Tarpon generally like staying in deeper holes or canals where they can have safety in the depth. However, when they are eating, they will push into shallow water, edges and mangrove shorelines chasing small baitfish and minnows. This is where you will have a much higher success rate in getting one to eat your fly. Which brings us to the next tip..

Streamer Patterns, Colors, & Size

Smaller size streamer “baitfish & minnow” patterns is a must in my book. Flies like the EP micro minnow, Schminnow and Laserminnow are a few that have been proven to produce in many conditions. The smaller the better sometimes – especially when they’re keyed in on the tiny fry bait.

For colors to use, I go by the old rule of thumb — dark water, dark colors like blacks and purples; light water, light colors like whites chartreuse and natural colors. This can also be applied to the weather conditions. During the mornings/evenings and also low light days when its cloudy darker colors, you can throw a better silhouette and brighter sunny days bright colors can be less intrusive.

Gear Setup

Having the right gear is important so you can have an easy carefree day on the water. I generally like to use smaller rods that will still allow you to cast in the wind or punch larger patterns like small gurglers. The Axiom ll or Axiom II-X in 5-6 weight has been great for this job and was built for these salt conditions. Fishing in tight conditions like mangrove tunnels crazy stuff happens so its nice having a rod that is backed by its company with an unbeatable warranty.

For the reel, I use an older BVK reel, but the BVK SD reel would be a great affordable choice. Sometimes to get way back where the little guys live kayaking or wading can be your best access which often leads to reels getting submerged or wet. This makes the BVK SD ideal with its light weight frame and sealed drag.

I typically use a weight forward floating fly line, and my preferred leader setups are 16-20 lb tapered leader for the babies. For the bigger juveniles, I typically run a 16-20 lb tapered leader with a 12” 25-30 lb section.

 

Retrieval & Strip Patterns

Last but not least, for a productive day of baby tarpon fishing, getting your strip cadence down is imperative. Juvenile tarpon are aggressive fast fish and 90% of the time I like a short consistent fast strip. Even if you feel a bite, just keep stripping. They will often miss or short strike the fly so it’s crucial not to rip the bait away from the fish. There has been many times where I have had a single fish take multiple swings at a fly in the same retrieve and finally hooked him on his 4th or 5th try.

Juvenile Tarpon are an awesome fish to target on light fly rods for anybody from beginner to expert and applying a few simple principles can make your time on the water much more productive. One of my main tips for anybody is to keep it simple and have fun!

 

Words and photos provided by Logan Totten. Logan is a TFO Ambassador based out of Englewood, Florida. He also works at TFO dealer/fly shop West Wall Outfitters in Port Charlotte, and runs a guiding service on the side called Backcountry Paddle Adventures. For further questions, you can reach out to Logan at backcountrypaddleadventures@yahoo.com.

 

Five Tips on How to Catch Tarpon

The Gold Cup features the best of the best in tarpon fishing. The invitation-only tournament is one of the most prestigious events of the competitive fishing season. TFO advisor Rob Fordyce has set the standard for Gold Cup consistency with 13 second-place finishes, the last of which came earlier this summer.

And he’s always learning.

“I’ve never been satisfied with my knowledge of tarpon,” Fordyce said. “I take fishing seriously. I do it for a living. Tarpon fishing, I take to a different level. That consistent (success) comes from never being satisfied with my knowledge of the game. I’m always trying new things and I’m trying to get better at it.”

TFO blog editor Mike Hodge chatted with Fordyce about his success, and the host of the outdoor series, Seahunter, offered a few tips. Among them:

Get In Shape

Tarpon fishing is not for the meek. It’s physical and fast paced. Many newbies assume the rough stuff comes once the big fish is hooked, and there’s no doubt your biceps, core and thighs will burn as you try to land your quarry.

Often overlooked, though, are the skills needed before the hookup. Good balance is essential. Why? Because if you fish the flats near a pass or a beach, swells can rock the boat. Sea legs aren’t a big deal for a hardened tarpon fisherman, but the newcomer needs to be strong and flexible to maintain good enough balance to spot fish and make accurate casts.

“It’s not a controlled environment,” Fordyce said. “A trout fishing setting is somewhat of a controlled environment. The fish aren’t moving. The fish are holding behind a rock and you know which rock that is. If you make a bad cast in a trout scenario, you get another shot. In tarpon fishing on the ocean side, there can be wind. There’s often extreme current, and sometimes both are in different directions. You can have waves over the bow with wind, and the fly has to end up in a six-inch diameter circle. It’s a game of inches.”

Use the Right Gear

Use gear that’s heavy enough. You don’t want to be under-gunned. A rod that’s too light will result in prolonged battles. A 10 weight is adequate. An 11 or 12 weight is better. For conventional gear, try medium heavy to heavy rods.

The Axiom II is a good choice for those who prefer fly. Our GIS Inshore or Seahunter Series works well for conventional enthusiasts.

Picking the Right Fly/Lure

The Cockroach may be the most famous and productive tarpon fly. I personally prefer the tarpon toad in black and purple. It’s easy to tie and it works. Rabbit strips are one my tying favorite materials simply because of the movement generated. And movement, as TFO advisor Blane Chocklett explains, is key to enticing strikes. I had never really thought about this concept before, but it makes perfect sense. Fish are predators. Feed them what they want.

When it comes to movement, conventional lures are hard to beat. Obvious choices are Bombers and DOAs and Yo-Zuri minnows.

“In sight-fishing scenarios we often use unweighted bass worms or flukes,” Fordyce said. “These baits will almost suspend allowing a lot of movement with a short, twitchy retrieve that can still be pretty slow without having to reel much. This can entice traveling fish to bite that aren’t in a feeding mode much the same way as a fly retrieve.”

Entire blog posts have been devoted to tarpon lures and flies. If you want more info, talk with your guide. Local knowledge is always best.

Seeing the Fish

There’s also a mental challenge involved with tarpon fishing. Count on long periods of time between schools of fish. The ability to concentrate through the doldrums is essential and usually acquired with experience.

“There can be times when you’re getting a shot every thirty seconds, and then there could be hours in between shots,” Fordyce said. “It could be four, five hours of just nothing. That’s when you really have to dig deep and focus hard. That’s when the shots are few and far between and you only get so many.”

Teamwork

You and your guide are a team. Ideally, he puts you on fish. The client’s job is to make an accurate cast, hook the fish and then land it. Rarely is it that easy. Mistakes happen and tempers can flare. The key, as in any relationship, is communication, particularly when it comes to the client’s skill level and expectations, so the chaos can be managed.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Fordyce said. “It’s a team sport. Your guide is trying to set you up for the most productive shot. There’s a lot going on.”

 

Headed out to pursue the Silver King? Let us know how you do on one of our social media channels. Want to add more tips or suggestions, feel free to speak up.