The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 43 - August 8, 2012

reel time

Tarpon test anglers and tackle

Reel time

Rusty chinnis | submitted
Getting a tarpon on the fly is a thrill worth waiting for.

Fly fishing for tarpon has always been a challenge as well as a passion. I’ve often questioned the time I spend in the blazing hot summer sun, standing on a six square foot piece of Fiberglas and staring for hours into the water. I do it because I might get a chance to place a fly in the path of one of Earth’s most incredible predators if I’m able to react fast enough, calculating the angle in a split second while factoring in the wind direction, the force of the tide, the sink rate of the fly and the erratic path of my totally unpredictable target. Get everything right and I’ll still have only about a 50 percent chance of getting a bite. My friends who pursue tarpon on the fly are fond of saying, “The only thing that we know for sure is that we don’t know for sure.” Tarpon are a mystery and the reason fly anglers put in the time they do. I’ve landed my share of tarpon over the years and recently opted to fish with lighter tackle and bite tippet.

Traditionally anglers fish with an 11 or 12 weight outfit and up to 80-pound bite tippet. I’ve downsized to 50-pound tippet because I’m happy to get a few jumps and don’t care for a long battle. I claim I’m doing it for the fish, but to be honest I’ve also lost my desire for a long, sweaty, muscle wrenching fight.

Last week I spent the last day of tarpon season sharing the bow with Captain Rick Grassett. I was eager to put a new 10 weight Loop rod to the test. Anglers who fish for tarpon regularly want the best equipment possible to make sure they optimize the hard won opportunities they do get.

The new Loop Flatsman rod incorporates new technology from 3M that has a history of innovation with its subsidiary Scientific Anglers. 3M’s new Powerlux Composites incorporate Composites incorporate new materials into fly rod technology with the goal of creating lighter, stronger rods that can deliver flies with optimal efficiency. It was classic late season fishing as we spent the first four hours seeing only three fish and getting just one “Hail Mary” shot. We never moved that day and in the last two hours we began to see fish and get respectable shots. Conditions were challenging as a late afternoon sea breeze combined with a hard outgoing tide put the casting skills of the anglers and the equipment to test. We persisted because we knew that if we could get the fly in the right place we would have a decent chance at a bite. Grassett was the first to “connect” as he made a cast to a fish that tracked right to the boat from the west. He made a perfect lead, getting the fly to the tarpons level. When the fish spotted the fly she tracked it to within three rod lengths of the boat and engulfed it with an enormous open mouth. Grassett did everything right, but the fly never stuck and we watched as the tarpon turned and swam away.

As the afternoon waned we kept extending our stay in fifteen minute turns on the bow. The sun was getting low and the falling tide was beginning to stain the water when I had another turn on the bow. Staring at the water I could barely make out the shape of a lone tarpon swimming the edge of the sand bar. I made a quick cast but misjudged the speed of the tide, watching helplessly as my fly was swept away from the tarpon. This was no fault of the rod which proved capable of smoothly accelerating the fly line and fly, placing the offering right where I thought it should land. I had time for one more quick cast, but ran out of line to strip as the fish closed in on my position. My only option was to raise the rod, sweeping the fly into the tarpon’s path. As we both watched in amazement the tarpon came to the surface, literally at my feet, and smashed the fly. The excitement didn’t last long since I couldn’t set the hook with my rod at a ninety degree angle, but the show was worth it.

On my next and last time to the bow I had another last minute shot that resulted in a beautiful take near the boat. I set the hook this time and got a jump, but just as the line was clearing it flew around the reel. The hook may have pulled from the tarpon’s mouth or been dislodged on the jump because it was on the leader when I retrieved my line. I had hoped to be able to test the fighting ability of the Loop rod on large tarpon, but that will have to wait until next season. I was impressed with its ability to smoothly distribute the power of the cast from handle to tip and deliver the fly where I wanted it. That gave me a good indication of how it could be used to pressure a fish and I look forward to trying it on the false albacore that will soon be chasing bait in nearshore waters, as well as some of the late season tarpon I’ll pursue in Pine Island Sound.

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