Tarpon: Fun on the Fly
  |  First Published: January 2010

February, the last month of summer, always presents me with some great alternatives with the fly rod.

Tuna might well be on the job in Moreton Bay but then the often incessant southerly winds prohibit going for a spin in the Galey to see what's out there.

The upper rivers are great for bass, but dirty water can hinder efforts.

So, if weather is tending to dominate intended play why not just kick back and look for tarpon in the local creek and canal systems and have a bit of fun with them?

Years back I always thought tarpon were scarce fish – along with our bass – that only inhabited a few select water ways in southern Queensland.

Now with a lot more river and creek miles behind me I've come to realise virtually any bit of clean water leading to the southern or northern bay areas, or giving access to the Broadwater, and virtually every canal estate as well will harbour tarpon from time to time.

I've seen tarpon in the Logan, Albert and Nerang rivers, in lagoons running off the Logan, lagoons at Bribie Island, virtually any canal estate where I've been fishing for bream or trevally and along the Seaway walls. Upper reaches of the Gold Coast creeks and canal systems also harbour tarpon as do the big lagoons not far from the Pacific Highway.

Tarpon are wide spread, far from rare, yet most anglers don't bother with them simply because they are a bit choosey on the lure and are full of fine bones. Also, the flesh tastes awful, really awful!

Made for the fly

But there is one redeeming feature. Tarpon simply love flies when in they are in the mood. They operative words being: IN THE MOOD.

So how do we locate tarpon to see if they are willing to have a lash at a fly? Clean water with access to the sea or a nearby river along the lines of the places I've mentioned is the key to success and all it takes is some time spent watching for them in the early morning or late afternoon.

Tarpon, unlike most fish, give their location away by surface activity. At times when they are active, which is usually in the first and last couple of hours of the day, tarpon will invariably roll on the surface to gulp a bit of air. Then, having gulped the air, they leave a bubble trail to tell the angler which way they are going.

It's a great system to find the fish and to exploit with a fly in their path but the truth is that not every fish will take the fly. There is a big difference between feeding tarpon and rolling tarpon and it's common to see half a dozen or more tarpon rolling frequently in a small area yet each will often reject the fly until it suits them to have a mood change.

Suddenly the fish are hitting hard, breaking off flies with abandon even though they might not be at all what we call large fish. This usually happens in the first or last hour of the day.

I've seen a tarpon no larger than 45cm break a 3kg leader with ease simply because these fish take the fly as they turn quickly. This means if an angler is a bit heavy handed the leader is going to come in correspondingly light. No fly!

The Gear

I like a 5-6wt rods for tarpon. While most of our creek fish are 35-50cm long there are some horses there as well and these fish can pull hard, easily breaking leaders. A floating or sink tip line seems to do the job best as full sink lines tend to snag somewhat if fishing creeks and other timber fringed areas from the bank, which is an excellent way of getting stuck into tarpon as they tend to be wary of boats. They will roll near the boat, but are often loathe taking the fly. If fishing from a boat, keep the casts long and the presentation gentle.

Besides, most times we're presenting the fly to a fish that has just surface rolled so he certainly won't be deep in the water table at that point.

A suitable rod, floating or sink tip fly line and a reel with some backing is the ideal tarpon outfit. That reel will need a wash down after use if it’s not saltwater gear. That said I use my trout reels all the time for tarpon and after cleaning the fly line I clean the reel as well and to date things have been fine.

The leader can be a store bought or a home rolled job with an ideal tippet breaking strain of 3kg. Tarpon have big eyes and excellent eye sight and will shy off flies tied on overly heavy leaders. Unless the leader material is of finest, absolutely top shelf quality I'd say that 5kg is going to be too heavy for most creek and canal fishing.

The fly

The fly is everything for these blokes. I have tried plenty of flies on tarpon but consistent results seem to come when using flies that imitate small silvery baitfish on size 4 hooks. I've tried poppers such as tiny Gartside Gurglers or cork and bucktail styled poppers on size 4 hooks from time to time but there are always a lot of short takes and missed hook-ups with poppers. My view is that small minnow style flies are hard to beat.

Tarpon have rock hard mouths so hooks need to have a decent gape and be sharp. I recently trialled some Cliff Rochester (from Just Add H2O products) Bay Candy no. 24498 flies on tarpon and found they worked very well with fish slamming them hard about one hour before dark.

Sharp and with small barbs the size 4 hooks of the Bay Candy flies hung in well on fish that leaped like crazy once hooked.

These flies are similar to the renowned Surf Candy style so if your local fly gear stockist doesn't have Just Add H2O products your home spun or store bought Surf Candy can do the job so long as the hook is around size 4 and is sharp.

That's the low down on tarpon. They should be on the job so long as the weather stays warm which will take us into late March or early April.

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