Tarpon (oxeye herring) are an interesting fish that live in estuaries, creeks, back waters, rivers and canal estates near tidal waters.
With silvery scales, overly large eyes and a rock-hard under slung mouth they have a deep but narrow body with a very large tail for given size. Tarpon are a dour, hard fighting fish that will jump a few times until brought to the boat.
They are quite happy in brackish water, even right up into the fresh, and I have seen some beauties below the Mt Crosby weir on the Brisbane River. However, at other times they are found in land locked coastal lagoons, provided that the tide can flush the lagoon now and again. In this sort of habitat tarpon will grow to 1kg+.
Tarpon intrigue flyfishers for one simple reason: few fish take a fly as well as a tarpon – if they are in the mood. And that’s the hard bit. I’ve fished for tarpon from Mackay to the Tweed River and if their unpredictable. Some days they bite their heads off, rising for air every couple of minutes or so, and other times they have locked jaws despite coming to the surface regularly.
If you can see the fish rolling or flipping near the top there’s a good chance you’ll scoring one because they tend to leave a bubble trail which gives place to throw the fly.
Tarpon prefer warmer weather but March isn’t too late to chase them, especially after the creeks have had such a good flush over summer.
When fishing for smaller fish there is no need to use heavy tackle. Use a six weight outfit and a floating or sink tip line mated to a 3kg tippet, in good hard fluoro carbon material. Tarpon don’t nibble or pick at flies, they grab them as they turn away. If the line is held just too tightly it will break off. Lagoon and creek fish seldom run to backing but I like backing on my fly reels because the next time a good sized trevally grabs a fly intended for tarpon won’t be the first.
Tarpon have very hard mouths and it’s necessary to rely on a sharp hook to stay connected to a fish. Kamagatsu SL12S hooks make contact and stay connected well.
I use size two hooks on my tarpon flies and smaller Deceivers, Crazy Charlies and Clousers are all suitable. A successful tarpon fly has plenty of flash about and is the size and profile of a small bait fish or shrimp.
Popper style flies are great for attracting strikes but not too good when it comes to getting a hook up.
For a fish that hit hard and jump around tarpon aren’t very energetic when chasing down a fly. If a retrieve is employed too quickly the fish won’t be interested. I like to drop the fly near where a fish has swirled, or close to cover such as snags or roots out from the bank. After allowing a few seconds to sink I retrieve it very slowly in the smallest possible jerks and twitches while keeping the rod near the water to minimize slack. I use this tactic for all my wet fly fishing.
With tarpon the usual indication of a take is a flash under the surface or a sudden boil which coincides with an awfully hard tug. If the angler pulls too hard in return the fly will be gone, missing in action. So while the retrieve needs to be deliberate, it also needs to be controlled so that if a fish does hit hard it won’t break off.
Tarpon are an awful tablefish due to bones throughout the flesh plus a rank flavour.Reads: 1992