Taking tarpon on fly
  |  First Published: December 2004

Once of my favourite fish on the fly rod is the humble tarpon or oxeye herring.

These fish don’t grow to mammoth size, and they’re not great on the plate, but they sure do take flies well, making them ideal for beginner fly anglers to train on. What’s more, when targeting tarpon you don’t need expert casting skills or expensive tackle, and in many situations they can be taken from the bank.

Tackle for tarpon should be light to medium. A 6-8wt rod does the job nicely, a floating line or sink tip line is ideal, the reel can be the same one you’d use for trout or bass. You’ll be fishing in fresh or brackish water most of the time, and if the water is a bit salty it’s easy to wash all tackle down after use anyway.

To find tarpon, look for places where saltwater runs to fresh. You can find these fish in places like the upper Brisbane River below Mt Crosby Weir, but it’s usually easier to get at them in smaller areas, such as the top of the many coastal streams about the place. Any small creek running to clean and fish-rich water in the bay, or an estuary with a freshwater upper area, lagoon or lake running off it, stands a good chance of holding tarpon.

The photo on this page shows a good location – a small lagoon adjoining a tiny creek running off the Bribie Passage. During really big tides juvenile tarpon get into the lagoon to grow to catchable size in a summer season.

One of the best ways of checking out water for tarpon is to be on the water at daylight on a bright, warm day. If tarpon are there you’ll usually see them rolling on the surface when they come up to gulp air from time to time. The dorsal and tail fin will show for an instant and then the fish will swim off, leaving a bubble trail to tell you where to throw the fly.

Tarpon are obliging fish in that they offer nice targets to chuck a fly at, but unfortunately they don’t always bite. It can be teeth-grindingly frustrating when you can see loads of them surface rolling and so few of them appear to see the fly! They do see it, of course, but for some reason they’re just not interested sometimes.

Tarpon feed most predominantly upon small fish – any small fish – so a 3-5cm baitfish pattern is ideal. You can use size 4 Deceivers, Clousers, Crazy Charles and the like, but my favourite is still the little fly made from a strip of silver material (wine bladder, alfoil or mylar) wound on the body of the hook up to the eye, and then completed with an overwing of fine flash material tied on top to give it a neat, flashy, baitfish-like profile. You need to tie your flies on the sharpest hooks available. Tarpon have very hard mouths, and once they’re hooked they usually jump around like crazy for a few seconds. Unless the hook is really sharp there’s little chance that the fish will stay attached.

Tarpon require fairly heavy tippet in relation to fish size, too. Break-offs are common as these fish take the fly right as they turn. There is no warning, just a sudden wrench that will see the fly gone as the fish jumps about, trying to dislodge it. If you’re starting out on tarpon, use a tippet of 3kg breaking strain to remain connected. If the fish are over 1kg you might need 4kg or even 5kg tippet.

So that’s the low-down on tarpon. These are summertime fish and, like other predators, they really fire up on an afternoon when a storm is brewing. You’ll most often see them after around four in the afternoon, as they seem to be more active as the sun goes down and the mosquitos start up.


1) Minnow type flies in sizes 1 or 2 are great for tarpon. Hooks should be very sharp.

2) The author with a fine lagoon tarpon.

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