Fly Fishing for Juvenile Tarpon


I had a single fly-caught tarpon to my name…that is until a couple weeks ago.  While visiting some good friends in Key West, I managed to sight cast and land a couple sub-adult (baby) tarpon from my buddies dinghy.

The plan had been to do a few days from a mother-ship (my buddy’s “house”) in the Marquesas, but the wind was howling, and we were stuck in our home port.

I guess it was my idea to wake up in the dark and motor around the quiet basin in my buddy’s backyard.  On day 1, the sun rose, and we didn’t see any big tarpon rolling.  But we saw something better:  A school of juvenile tarpon, somewhere between 2′ and 3′ long, rolling at the edge of the basin and a hard bottomed flat.  Jackpot.

In the course of that morning, sans fly rod, we managed to land a nice Jack Crevalle and a baby tarpon from that school.  The lure?  A DOA mullet, the ugliest lure I’ve ever fished with but the ultimate lure for tarpon (as taught by my experiences in the everglades).  We had multiple fish swipe at the lure from the school of tarpon, and in the morning light they were very aggressive (striped-bass-esque if you catch my meaning).  As the week went on, they would get more fussy.

A beautiful juvenile tarpon on medium action spinning gear.
Releasing the baby tarpon.
A little jack on the ugly, hideous mullet lure.  They loved it.

Day two saw more of the same:  At the same point in the tide, the tarpon would begin rolling along the edge of the flat, and then work their way up and begin to pursue glass minnows in the shallows, moving in a line and aggressively ripping into the bait schools.  With my 8wt, I started sight casting them from the anchored boat.  I had a few eats, and finally had one nail the fly (a cream colored rabbit strip fly) as he came towards the dinghy, slowly stripping the fly away from the fish.  Must have awakened the ambush predator in Mr. Tarpon, and he sucked the fly down, turned, and began a series of jumps across the flat.

These tarpon are brawlers.

I brought the fish into the boat for a quick picture, but it was strong and feisty enough to break my grip and flop back into the water.

My other buddy’s first Jack Crevalle.  Amazing how strong these little guys are.

Day 3 was tough:  Again, the fish came onto the flat at the same exact tidal stage, regardless of sun or wind.  And again, anchored and sight casting to the fish, I had a couple eats but no successes.

Day 4 was tough, but I connected:  Blind casting a tarpon toad to the edge of the flat, a nicer tarpon took the fly, and proceeded to helicopter all over the flat.  After four jumps (and bowing each time to the fish), I leaned back to gloat with my friend.  At that moment, the tarpon jumped a fifth time, and I turned around in time to watch the fly come sailing back as the fish cannon-balled into the water.

My friend with a Day 4 Jack Crevalle shortly before I was embarrassed by a tarpon.

I love tarpon.

Besides tarpon fishing, we spent time bait fishing for snapper and grunts for dinner, sailing to the Gulfstream (before the winds were too dangerous), and free diving for lobster.  All great fun, and all amazing experiences.


One Comment Add yours

  1. John O says:

    Are you sure those aren’t hickory shad? Seriously, great post as usual. Beautiful fish and well written.


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