Live crabs, pinfish, pilchards, and artificial lures and flies are the primary methods of catching tarpon in the Keys.
The recent cold snap that shut down Boz last week has passed, and the bay waters started warming Thurs through yesterday and continuing. I went out late yesterday afternoon into evening with Wayne as planned There are big fish there in significant numbers, but not in the great profusion that they will be in a few more weeks.
Guides were anchored down in both primo spots for fishing live crabs, which Wayne was using, when we got there. We could not ethically anchor down close enough to them to fish crabs over known tarpon holds, so we putzed around trying to set up a drift over other likely spots (irritatingly, now filled with crab trap buoys).
One of the guide boats hooked up on a live crab, but unfotunately, tossed out a tarpon ball on their anchor line. So we putzed some more, to no avail. They quickly lost the fish and returned. After what seemed like a short forever, they hooked up again, but this time weighed anchor, so we moved in to where I wanted to be.
By this time, the current had picked up everywhere, making fishing live crabs less effective because neither bobbers nor nor the live crabs fished from one, act right, and casting and drifting crabs quickly takes a toll on their stamina, and they don't act right either.
I hooked a large cow pretty quickly that just took off without a jump, and bent the hook out of it at about 150 yards or so. I changed fllies and jumped another within about 10 minutes which Wayne seid he wanted to chase down. It was the jumpingest large tarpon I've ever hooked that I can remember, and put on a great show. Unfortunately, it cut off my 60 lb fluoro after about 10- 15 minutes and we returned to our anchor.
By now it was nearly completely dark, and a beautiful night emerged filled with stars, shooting stars, a light breeze of 0-5 mph, no mosquitos to speak of , and warm - one of my prime fishing considerations.
After a smoke and sodas, Wayne canned the crab plan and tied one of my flies onto his bait casting reel, using a swivel to get it down (no split shot on board) and fished it by letting it out into the current and working it ocassionally with the rod tip. Had we stayed longer, I'm certain he'd have hooked up. Tarpon are very likely to take a bunny-tail fly on the drift, and at least as likely to take one sitting "motionless" in current, if one sees it. That latter eventuality is dependent primarily on how long it takes for one to mosey on by and see it.
But that didn't occur because a horde of phosphorescent jellyfish washed into the channel and chased all the tarpon into hiding. I don't know the name of them, but they are the ones that have what looks like green glowing worms swimming around in figure 8's and circles inside the jellyfish body. I have never hooked up a tarpon when those things are thick - so we left. Sometimes, it will just be a small tribe of them and they will all float by, then the tarpon will start feeding again once they have been gone for a while. But this was looking like a prolonged invasion so we decided to leave.
Wayne is the second of 2 quides I fish with who has come over to the opinion that flies generally are more effective than other methods on tarpon that are feeding. Yeasterday, he tried a wide variety of lures on another rod while soaking his crab to no avail.
The other buddy, a guide who worked out of Bud n Mary's marina in Islamorada for well over 10 years and who guided blue and backcountry for over 40 years total, learned to fly cast effectively after we started fishing together for the same reasons - you catch more fish when they are feeding and you greatly expand the types of water and conditions you can fish in. It also cuts out a lot of aggrivation having to deal with live bait. When he's fishing himself or with me, he now uses flies exclusively and has bought at least 2 new flyrods since.
So, my points are that, so long as tarpon are feeding, you needn't feel disadvantaged when fishing flies.
For guys wading and casting (blind or not) into channels bordering flats, flies do not need to be stripped to elicit the bite on the drift - tarpon will take a drifted, lively fly at least as well as a stripped one; in fact, they react very like many river species to a drifted fly on the swing; don't be in a rush to re-cast at the end of the swing; and, most importantly, don't think that because all the guides have left, there will be no more fishing. They have families and customers they have to meet as 7 the next morning.