Flats Hunter 101: Fighting Tarpon
There are many schools of thought on how you should strike a tarpon after he takes your fly. The most common misconception is that you should wait for the tarpon to turn away before setting the hook. This technique is flawed because many times the tarpon will take your fly and continue coming right towards you. A better solution is to wait until the tarpon closes his mouth and then strike. By waiting for the tarpon to fully engulf the fly, you are likely to get a better hookset deeper in the fish’s mouth.
When you strike a tarpon don’t swipe the rod like Bubba the bass fisherman or you might pop your leader. The best way to strike a tarpon is a short, firm strip-strike ninety degrees to the fish. The incredible stress put on your leader during this process requires that you learn to master the art of knot tying. Only the best knots can survive the grueling ordeal of fighting and landing a large tarpon.
After you strike the fish, give your undivided attention to clearing the line. You can easily do this by making a circle with your forefinger and thumb so that the line flows cleanly off the deck. You then begin the long dance with the silver king at the end of your line.
The most important rule to landing a large tarpon is to maintain a steady tension on the line and to avoid any sudden stressful jerks. Maintain a steady pressure while the fish runs. Either you take line or the fish does. Never reel line unless you are pumping. You need to take control and regain line whenever possible. You must pump the fish when he is not taking line. If the fish makes any movement or lunge while you are pumping, you must lower your rod and let him go.
During the course of action, you must show your respect to the king and “bow” whenever he jumps. To properly bow a jumping tarpon, you point the rod tip at the fish as he jumps and simultaneously lower it under the water a few inches.
This dipping technique was developed by Harry Kime to alleviate the slack line that occurs during bowing by using the density of the water to increase surface tension.
Be ready to chase after the fish if it appears as though you are going to be spooled. Tarpon often make bombastic, acrobatic runs of over 200 yards so chasing after them is a distinct possibility.
When the fish is within a short distance to the boat, you must apply side pressure to subdue him. Side pressure is the method of holding the rod at ninety-degree angles to the direction of which the fish is swimming and only works when the fish is within close proximity to the boat.
Familiarity with your tackle and its drag will help you correctly land a fish. You may fine tune your drag during the fight but this takes a great deal of touch and experience. Palming the reel is an effective technique that allows you a great deal of flexibility without the permanent consequences of tightening the drag. It is also important to remember that at the end of the battle when you are landing the fish you must loosen your drag as a precaution should anything go awry.
Be certain that the tarpon is finished before you attempt removing the fly and releasing him. Tarpon are large, powerful creatures that demand your utmost attention for your own safety. Quickly remove the fly, take any pictures, and revive the fish by moving water over his gills. If it is easier, put the boat in gear and hold the fish as the water runs over his gills until he is ready to be released.
The future of our tarpon fishing depends on the quick capture and release of the beautiful giant. Never go after tarpon with undermatched tackle or spend too much time taking photos while the fish is exhausted.
Tarpon have been on Earth over 100 million years. It is only through our actions today that they will be around for 100 million more!
Casting to Tarpon