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Old 04-02-2013, 01:55 PM
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Default Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

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.
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Old 04-02-2013, 09:52 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

Good story with a good point Jim! Flys are deadly on Tarpon in most situations and not to use them when you have the opportunity is crazy! There are some situations(cold,high wind and heavy weed line) where the odds are againest you and then its time to make a decision crabs or switch targets. For me Ill take the switch and go to the park and catch Reds and Snook.
As far as bait pinfish and other baitfish are for certain situations with crabs being the best all around bait. With that said at $3.75 a pop for crabs the answer is easy watch the bobber or fly fish . Ill take the latter.
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Old 04-03-2013, 08:21 AM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

The method of fishing the fly you described is very similar to how much of the Tarpon fishing is done in Costa Rica, especially in the Rio Colorado. The boat is anchored up, then the angler lets the fly out in the current on a floating line. Our flies are tied on ....hold on to your hats....4/0 to 6/0 hooks. At the Somerset Fly Show, Bob Clouser looked over a few of our "Glow Whistlers" with 1/4 ounce eyes, 6/0 hooks, and 6-7 inches in length. He laughed, made a few "half-chicken" jokes, and then very seriously said he thought they would be killer when drifted or trolled for Musky. Our guides usually use two rods and set them in rod holders designed for fly rods. We have found the hook up percentage is vastly increased if the angler is not holding the rod on the take. We fish the surface, or just barely beneath it, (strong current) and you can see the fish take the fly sideways, often its back and several inches of its sides come above water. Most clients, unless they are very experienced will set the hook too soon, basically jerking the fly away from the fish. If we fish outside the "mushroom" at the mouth of the rivers, we usually drift fish, and let the fly trail the boat. These are very effective methods an it is not uncommon to outfish the bait fishermen in CR.
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Last edited by mrfzx; 04-03-2013 at 08:22 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 04-05-2013, 12:21 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

Great stuff!!!
I am getting into fly fishing and having trouble seeing the coolness sometimes. When I know I could catch the fish on spin gear it is hard to stay with the fly.

Does anyone have any good recommendations for blind drifting fly patterns?

Prob should have started a new thread but I want this audience to answer.

Thanks!
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Old 04-05-2013, 01:11 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

Our favorite is the "Glow Whistler", especially in dark water. If the water is very clear we go with brighter flies (yellow/orange works well).

Hook: 4/0 -6/0 Satinless
Thread: Red or Black Kevlar or GSP
Tail: Red Crystal Flash
Over-tail: 12 Black Schlapen feathers (tied to flare)
Wing: Glow Flash-a-bou (glow in the dark)
Over-wing: Silver Flash-a-bou
Collar: Red Marabou
Eyes: Ex-Large lead dumbell, or 3/8 inch brass w/ holo eye stickers
Glue: ***important***we put super-glue on each layer, let dry well, then laquer with your favorite, I like "hard as hull".

I have a baseball game tonight, but I will get a photo on for you ASAP.

---------- Post added at 11:11 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:08 AM ----------

Let me rephrase the glueing step: we super-glue each layer before wrapping in the next. Once the head is done we super glue that too. Once it is cured well, we go back and laquer the head.
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Old 04-05-2013, 03:00 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

Quote:
Originally Posted by mrfzx View Post
Hook: 4/0 -6/0 Satinless
Thread: Red or Black Kevlar or GSP
Tail: Red Crystal Flash
Over-tail: 12 Black Schlapen feathers (tied to flare)
Wing: Glow Flash-a-bou (glow in the dark)
Over-wing: Silver Flash-a-bou
Collar: Red Marabou
Eyes: Ex-Large lead dumbell, or 3/8 inch brass w/ holo eye stickers
Glue: ***important***we put super-glue on each layer, let dry well, then laquer with your favorite, I like "hard as hull".
Awesome!
And I would like a side of baked potato with that steak. That is a whopper. In my area all the tarpon for much of the year are at the bridge or pass, so not sight fishing very much. What WT line to you need to fling that sucker?
Good luck on the game!
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Old 04-05-2013, 03:04 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

Super glue! The salvation of many salt water patterns!
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Old 04-05-2013, 04:47 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

The two I use most for channel tarpon or rolling tarpon in low light/glare are grisley hackle streamers in yellow or orange with a darker shade palmered neck especially when overcast or late in the afternoon in clear water.

Smokey water or low sun into dark, I like black bunny tails with black schlapen necks. I use two 1/4" wide zonker strlips when available, but 3/16ths is the best I can do down here. I glue them together with super glue to about 5/8th inch beyond the bend of the hook and leave the two ends to swim (just like a split tail mullet). This keeps them from fouling the hook when casting. I use either gold bead chain or brass dumbell eyes, depending on the depth I want to fish.

I like gold/green/blue flash and gold eyes as opposed to silver in these conditions, and black hooks. I use very little flash and use a couple regular long strands past the tail and then a couple shorter ones along the body. The short ones, I pull through my thumb nail and index finger to make them twist and form dots of light.

I have better success with the above black bunny than the vaunted black and purple toads, which take much longer for me to tie.

But, frankly, I think most any streamer that rides well will work drifted in current.

Homer,

Very interesting about Costa Rica!

Quote:
We have found the hook up percentage is vastly increased if the angler is not holding the rod on the take.
My buddy who retired from guiding had his tarpon fishermen clients fish live crabs, pinfish and pilchards with 7-0 circle hooks and the lever drag reels set to his preferred strike setting. He preferred that they not hold the rods at all, but if they really wanted to, he'd tell them to not set the hook at all ever, period Then he'd increase the drag setting for them after the first run started.

What I do (fly fishing) depends on what the fish is doing. It it's a "hit and sit" (delayed reaction type eat) I usually will leave the line tight for a second or two then hit him with a heavy strip strike, because those particular fish often do figure 8's and then jump when they realize soemthing's wrong (especially in shallow water), and they are the most apt to twist out a lightly stuck hook when they pull that stunt.

Other times they will hit and run very quickly and aggressively. Then, I will usually wait until they are into the backing and then hit them with the rod two or three times in the opposite direction they are running towards with the rod horizontal.

I don't like to hit them when the backing connection may wind up being in the rod guides, and I like the rod pointed toward the fish when that connection goes through.

Whether my methods are right or wrong, I frankly have no idea. But it makes sense to me that a fish with a mouth big enough to swallow a football isn't swimming at 30 mph away from me with his mouth wide open. So if the hook is just barely pricking his bony jaw and comes loose, it's apt to re-hook into the corner of his mouth. Anyhow, that's what I do, and my solid hookup ratio is pretty decent.

Counterpoint is that I missed a hookup day before yesterday on a tarpon that bit then immediately jumped toward me, but I still think that percentages are with a delayed hook set.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Homer
Let me rephrase the glueing step: we super-glue each layer before wrapping in the next.
Excellent point. For those unused to salt water fishing, let me point out that non-stainless hooks will begin rusting while actually fishing in the tropical heat. When you glue the underlying layers from thread-wrap up, you are helping to prevent the hook from rusting where you can't even see it. Unsaturated (with lacquer or glue) tying thread, hackle etc takes a long time to dry. Your hooks will last much longer if protected from even fresh water, much less salt water.
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Last edited by wjc; 04-05-2013 at 05:14 PM.
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Old 04-05-2013, 07:29 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

Quote:
Originally Posted by wjc View Post
The two I use most for channel tarpon or rolling tarpon in low light/glare are grisley hackle streamers in yellow or orange with a darker shade palmered neck especially when overcast or late in the afternoon in clear water.

Smokey water or low sun into dark, I like black bunny tails with black schlapen necks. I use two 1/4" wide zonker strlips when available, but 3/16ths is the best I can do down here. I glue them together with super glue to about 5/8th inch beyond the bend of the hook and leave the two ends to swim (just like a split tail mullet). This keeps them from fouling the hook when casting. I use either gold bead chain or brass dumbell eyes, depending on the depth I want to fish.

I like gold/green/blue flash and gold eyes as opposed to silver in these conditions, and black hooks. I use very little flash and use a couple regular long strands past the tail and then a couple shorter ones along the body. The short ones, I pull through my thumb nail and index finger to make them twist and form dots of light.

I have better success with the above black bunny than the vaunted black and purple toads, which take much longer for me to tie.

But, frankly, I think most any streamer that rides well will work drifted in current.

Homer,

Very interesting about Costa Rica!



My buddy who retired from guiding had his tarpon fishermen clients fish live crabs, pinfish and pilchards with 7-0 circle hooks and the lever drag reels set to his preferred strike setting. He preferred that they not hold the rods at all, but if they really wanted to, he'd tell them to not set the hook at all ever, period Then he'd increase the drag setting for them after the first run started.

What I do (fly fishing) depends on what the fish is doing. It it's a "hit and sit" (delayed reaction type eat) I usually will leave the line tight for a second or two then hit him with a heavy strip strike, because those particular fish often do figure 8's and then jump when they realize soemthing's wrong (especially in shallow water), and they are the most apt to twist out a lightly stuck hook when they pull that stunt.

Other times they will hit and run very quickly and aggressively. Then, I will usually wait until they are into the backing and then hit them with the rod two or three times in the opposite direction they are running towards with the rod horizontal.

I don't like to hit them when the backing connection may wind up being in the rod guides, and I like the rod pointed toward the fish when that connection goes through.

Whether my methods are right or wrong, I frankly have no idea. But it makes sense to me that a fish with a mouth big enough to swallow a football isn't swimming at 30 mph away from me with his mouth wide open. So if the hook is just barely pricking his bony jaw and comes loose, it's apt to re-hook into the corner of his mouth. Anyhow, that's what I do, and my solid hookup ratio is pretty decent.

Counterpoint is that I missed a hookup day before yesterday on a tarpon that bit then immediately jumped toward me, but I still think that percentages are with a delayed hook set.


Excellent point. For those unused to salt water fishing, let me point out that non-stainless hooks will begin rusting while actually fishing in the tropical heat. When you glue the underlying layers from thread-wrap up, you are helping to prevent the hook from rusting where you can't even see it. Unsaturated (with lacquer or glue) tying thread, hackle etc takes a long time to dry. Your hooks will last much longer if protected from even fresh water, much less salt water.

What size hooks are the fave? My live bait hooks are 5/0-7/0 depending on bait size. Seems like a lot of tarpon flies are only 3/0 that seems small to me?
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Old 04-05-2013, 09:31 PM
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Default Re: Tarpon: Crabs vs. flies

A lot of the flies used now are 2/0's, even 1/0's . I would guess that 2/0 Gami SL12's are probably the most common hook around Islamorada. Most of that fishing is done in very clear water, hi-vis and high sun. I rarely get a chance to fish like that anymore. Most the guys I used to fish tarpon with who lived here are now in the happy fishing grounds, and the last of them has Alzheimer's real bad.

Hardly anyone uses 5/0's but me. I like Gami octopus 5/0 offsets because they are made from thin wire but are strong yet don't snap off. But that's because I am usually fishing backcountry in cloudy water where the fish eat really big flies readily, and fishing with guys who want to catch a tarpon instead of practicing their casting at hundreds of them with lockjaw.

They are much easier to catch when they are actually feeding, and that's what my northern buddies all want to do - catch them. We usually get there late in the afternoon at about the time most all the guides are leaving and fish into the night, if necessary. Few guides do that.

Most of my northern friends, who are ocassional fly fishermen, do not cast well enough to have but a miniscule chance of catching daytime ocean fish.
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