Let’s break this down for a second: You are chasing a fish that has potential to grow over 200 pounds with nothing more than a clump of synthetic or natural materials wrapped on a hook. Tarpon fishing is not always easy, but it is always exciting. The best part is, anybody can do it!
I am by no means a total expert when it comes to Tarpon fishing, but here are a few of the most valuable things I’ve learned since my obsession with these fish began.
1 – Relax!
This is first on the list, because most mistakes in saltwater fly fishing come at the hands of one thing: adrenaline. Sometimes the target in which you are trying to land your fly will be very small, something that is difficult when every inch of you is shaking like a leaf.
You will execute drastically better when you’re not in “panic mode”, which can be hard when there is a school of giant Tarpon rolling near the boat and it’s your turn to cast. I distinctly remember fishing amongst the biggest school of Tarpon I’ve ever seen in Costa Rica, I was so nervous I could barely cast 50 feet.
Before you put your fly in the air, take a deep breath. This can be a hard thing to remember to do, but will ultimately allow you to capitalize on more chances.
Being a long-time trout fisherman, my instincts had always been “when the line comes tight, lift the rod to set the hook.”
This is a great strategy if your goal is to lose each and every Tarpon you ever come in contact with!
The mouth of a Tarpon is quite bony, with few places that a hook will penetrate and stick. Therefore, strip-setting is essential in driving the hook where it needs to go when a Tarpon eats your fly. Keep the rod tip low, and make one (or multiple) firm strips to give yourself the best chance of sticking (and landing) the fish.
When the rod is lifted (also known as a “trout set”), there is simply not enough driving force to bury the hook. The act of pointing the rod at the fish and setting with the line gives you a very direct connection to the fish, and a great chance of keeping it pinned.
3 – Maintaining a Proper Rod Angle during the Fight
The first ten seconds upon hooking a Tarpon, especially a big one, are nothing short of complete chaos. The sound of a Tarpon’s gill rakers rattling in the air, the massive disturbance made on the water, and praying to the fish gods that you can clear your stripping line and get it onto the reel without issue.
When fishing for trout, we are often taught to keep the rod tip high. When you are playing Tarpon, keeping the rod tip high will keep you at the mercy of the fish the whole time.
Once it is time to start gaining line on the fish, keeping the angle of your rod fairly low and using the line will give you the best chance at landing the fish as quickly as possible. This doesn’t mean it won’t take an hour or more to land the fish, but that’s part of the fun!