Vol 7 No. 32 - May 2, 2007

Catching tarpon challenging, exciting

Catching Tarpon
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Doug Kilpatrick and Andy Mill hold a tarpon landed on fly tackle in eight minutes.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Tarpon season is right around the corner, and anglers who are properly rigged and practice the patience necessary for this demanding sport are in for one of angling’s greatest pursuits. Tarpon will fall for a well placed crab, pinfish, artificial lure or fly, but for any measure of success, anglers will need to be on top of their game. You’ll hear many fishermen say that they just like to see a tarpon jump when first hooked and are not interested in actually catching them. The reason this statement is so prevalent is that tarpon are incredibly tough and intimidating to people who don’t know how to fight them. If you hook one on any tackle and don’t fight it properly, you could be in for a couple of hours of back-breaking work. Work them properly from the minute you hook them, and you can land them consistently in under half an hour.

The key to catching tarpon quickly (better for the angler and the tarpon) is to know the breaking strength of your leader, make sure you rig properly and fight them hard from the strike. It’s important to hold your rod with only a slight bend over the whole length rather than high with a big arch. I learned this from Andy Mill, arguably the greatest tarpon fisherman alive. He used a scale, and lifted a bucket of sand with a pulley to test the amount of pressure he could put on his 12-pound class tippet. He found that a high rod applied far less pressure than the slightly bent rod. In 2006, Mill landed 106 tarpon on fly with the longest fight lasting 18 minutes!

Rigging is critical. Tarpon will test your tackle and technique to the limit. One weak link and the game is over. First and foremost you’ll need a reel with a smooth drag. In addition, a matching rod, quality line and a well sharpened hook are mandatory.

Learn how to rig a proper tarpon leader. I start by doubling my 20-pound class tippet (the weakest link) and tying it to my 70-pound bite tippet using an improved blood knot. It’s critical when tying any knot to wet it and draw it very tight so there is no chance of it slipping. I leave my 20-pound tippet on the spool and then measure off about 6 feet of line before clipping it off. I then double the line and tie a Bimini twist. At this point I trim all the ends and tie my fly on with a non-slip mono loop knot. This same leader can be used with any tackle. To finish, simply twist the two ends of the Bimini and attach to your running line with another improved blood knot. This knot is a bit difficult to tie at first, but it’s a terrific connection. In lieu of the blood knot a uni-knot can be used.

The best tip for consistent success in tarpon fishing is to exercise patience and be considerate of other anglers. Never run an outboard near tarpon. While it’s possible to catch one this way occasionally, it spoils the fishing for everyone. When you spot a school of fish, place yourself in their path and wait (motors off) for them to approach. Timing is important. Judge the path of the fish and make a long cast to intercept them. If they track off or don’t bite, wait until they are well past and make a wide loop around the school to set up again. Stay well away from any boat that is fishing a school. Go around and wait your turn or find another target. If anglers use this method, everyone gets a shot without spooking the fish.

Tarpon fishing is one of the most challenging and exciting experiences in the angling world. Learn to rig properly, be patient and considerate of other anglers and you’ll have the time of your life. Go out unprepared and you’re in for one of the world’s most frustrating experiences.

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