Fly Fishing for Tarpon

For the dedicated Flyfisher, the oceans are the ultimate challenge for their knowledge and skills with their wide expanse of water and the fish that dwell beneath their surfaces.


As a rough guide we can divide the fish sought by the fly angler as exotic which is out of the reach of most fly anglers pockets and the less exotic which is abundent within the waters of all countries of the world.


Like the freshwater species, the saltwater has it’s own game fish, however they do not belong to a specific family of game fish. They are renowned for their fantastic fighting prowess and of course their size.


Such fish as the tuna, tarpon, permit, sailfish and some species of shark are regarded as game fish.


Tarpons are large fish of the genus Megalops; one species is native to the Atlantic, and the other to the Indo-Pacific Oceans. They are the only members of the family Megalopidae. The two species of tarpons are Megalops atlanticus (Atlantic tarpon) and the Megalops cyprinoides (Indo-Pacific tarpon). M. atlanticus is found on the western Atlantic coast from Virginia to Brazil, throughout the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and throughout the Caribbean.


Tarpons are also found along the eastern Atlantic coast from Senegal to South Angola. M. cyprinoides is found along the eastern African coast, throughout Southeast Asia, Japan, Tahiti, and Australia. Both species are found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats, usually ascending rivers to access freshwater marshes. They are able to survive in brackish water, waters of varying pH, and habitats with low dissolved O2 content due to their swim bladders, which they use primarily to breathe.


They are also able to rise to the surface and take gulps of air, which gives them a short burst of energy. The habitats of tarpons vary greatly with their developmental stages. Stage-one larvae are usually found in clear, warm, oceanic waters, relatively close to the surface. Stage-two and -three larvae are found in salt marshes, tidal pools, creeks, and rivers.


The habitats are characteristically warm, shallow, dark bodies of water with sandy mud bottoms. Tarpons commonly ascend rivers into freshwater. As they progress from the juvenile stage to adulthood, they move back to the open waters of the ocean, though many remain in freshwater habitats.


The Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) inhabits coastal waters, estuaries, lagoons, and rivers. The tarpon feeds almost exclusively on schooling fish and occasionally crabs. It is capable of filling its swim bladder with air, like a primitive lung. This gives the tarpon a predatory advantage when oxygen levels in the water are low. Tarpons have been recorded at up to 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) in length and weighing up to 161 kg (355 lb). The Atlantic tarpon is also known as the silver king.


In appearance, a tarpon is greenish or bluish on top and silver on the sides. The large mouth is turned upwards and the lower jaw contains an elongated, bony plate. The last ray of the dorsal fin is much longer than the others, reaching nearly to the tail.


The Atlantic tarpon is found in the Atlantic Ocean, typically in tropical and subtropical regions, though it has been reported as far north as Nova Scotia and the Atlantic coast of southern France, and as far south as Argentina. As with all Elopiformes, it is found in coastal areas; it spawns at sea. Its diet includes small fish and crustaceans.


The Indo-Pacific tarpon, Megalops cyprinoides, also known as the Oxeye herring or simply herring, is a relatively medium-sized species of tarpon. In appearance, it is like the Atlantic tarpon, Megalops atlanticus: olive-green on top, and silver on the sides. The large mouth is turned upwards; the lower jaw contains an elongated, bony plate. The last ray of the dorsal fin is much longer than the others, reaching nearly to the tail. It is capable of filling its swim bladder with air and absorbing oxygen from it. Species in fresh water tend to be smaller than the saltwater species, growing just over 50 centimetres (20 in), while saltwater species grow over a 1 metre (3.3 ft). They live an upwards of 44 years and mature within two. They complete their metamorphosis from their larvae stage in 10 days.


The Indo-Pacific tarpon migrates between the open sea and inland rivers. As with all Elopiformes, it spawns, mainly offshore. Juveniles of the species stay inshore and will migrate to coastal areas while maturing to spawn. Typically they spawn twice a year. At sea, the larvae migrate inland and are leptocephalic (flattened, transparent and eel-like). Unlike the barramundi, they are able to breed in freshwater and saltwater.


They are found in depths up to 50 metres (160 ft) but are commonly found by the surface in shallow inshore waters. They inhabit everywhere from coral reefs, mangroves, swamps, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, floodplains, and canals. In Papua New Guinea they are reportedly found under large mats of Salvinia molesta.


The tarpon lives in many tropical areas of Australia in the tropical, coastal, and brackish waters of the Indo-Pacific oceans. in both freshwater and saltwater. They are widely distributed from Australia, Japan, and North Africa. Their population has deficient data on their population as their commercial landings and human disturbances are unknown, however they are known to be extremely common throughout their range.


For fly fishing for tarpon and other salt water fish you will require tackle that has been proofed by the manufacturers against corrosion. In constant contact with salt water ordinary tackle would be destroyed or rendered useless.


The usual type of fly rod may be used, although a strong 8 or 9 weight rod would be best. The rings and reel fittings must be non-corrosive.


Fly reels can now be obtained specially for sea fishing and a larger than normal reel is the best to accommodate enough line for the greater depths fished and the longer runs that will be made by the fish.


Some of the time it might be necessary to use either a lead core or lead-impregnated coated fly line. This will enable you to fish deeper water and help to combat the stronger water currents. Both floating and sink lines are used for sea flyfishing depending on the fish and the location you are fishing.


When there is a risk of contacting fish with strong jaws and teeth, the fly must be joined to the leader with a length of wire or heavy leader material known as a trace.


Stalking Tarpon is extremelly exciting; however not easy at times and requires all your skills and dedication.


At certain times of the day the tarpon frequent some areas commonly known as the flats. These areas are normally about knee deep leading to the deep drop offs into the ocean. The water is crystal clear and the tarpon can be seen from some distance off cruising over the areas looking for a food source.


The problem with the fish is they can be shy and skitterish. You must be very careful when your wadding and casting as you don’t want to scare them off.


Most of the fishing done for tarpon on the flats is from flat bottomed boats guided by locals who know where the best places on the flats are to catch a few tarpon. The boats are motored out too the flats then the guide uses a pole to move about silently.


Some people prefer to actually be in the water when the fish are in casting distance, it is always good to cast your fly into the fishes path to avoid disturbance of the water and scaring them off.


Use a floating line on the flats with a lot of backing line on your reel.


The flies which do not have too be much bigger than a large fresh water lure. It should be dressed to appear like sea creatures like crabs and shrimps. The tarpon flies are tied with long dyed hackles as wings (see this months Fly of the Month article); dressed the reverse way to a normal fresh water lure so that they open and close when retrieved and look like small fish or shrimps.


When the fish takes your fly and moves away, this is the time to strike, but hold on as the tarpon is known for their exceptional long and powerful runs. Hold the rod high to clear as much line as you can from the water as this helps to keep better contact and control of your line and the fish.


This kind of fishing has it’s disappointments, sometimes you will be stalking a school of tarpon only to find that they have changed directions or has been spooked by a faulty cast.

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