Friday, May 25, 2012

Tarpon On The Beaches, Updated.

I just spent the past week chasing tarpon off the beaches of Cayo Costa and Gasparilla Island.  There are hundreds of schools rolling through the waters out there on their way into Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor.  I had two very experienced fly anglers on my bow and they caught zero fish.  We were not alone out there.  At any given time there were at least half a dozen other boats within half a mile of us, all casting fly rods, and we saw none of them hook up either. 

If anyone tells you they were crushing the tarpon on fly this past week, they're full of it. 

So what was the problem?  For starters, the fish are really on the move out there.  Of the hundreds of tarpon we cast to only a pair were floating dead still in the water.  The rest were swimming along at around three mph.  I know this because I was watching my GPS while chasing them with my trolling motor.  Three mph might not sound too fast but when the tarpon are coming straight at you, combined with the drifting speed of the boat, the gap closes really quickly.  The average time we had from when I'd first spot a fish to the fly needing to hit the water was usually less than ten seconds. 

Trust me, it's not easy to make an accurate cast that quickly from the heaving bow of an 18' flats skiff. 

Speaking of those casts, accurate isn't quite the right word.  Perfect is more like it.  Migrating tarpon are nocturnal feeders, they're simply not as concerned with finding food during the day but at the same time they won't pass up an easy meal.  If they spot a shrimp or crab swimming just below the surface and can pop open their huge mouth to inhale it, they will.  The same thing goes for a fly dropped directly in their path.  Land it two feet to the tarpon's left or right and they'll completly ignore it.  I've seen this behavior thousands of times over the past twenty years and it still drives me absolutely insane some days. 

What this boils down to is that the angler has at best a ten second window to make a cast from a moving platform through moving air into moving water at a moving fish, land the fly in a narrow rectangle no closer than two and no further than four feet from the fish's nose, and begin stripping the fly so it is slowly moving away from the fish to accurately simulate prey and trigger a strike.  Sound's easy to me, too. 

If you do manage to put it all together, these tarpon will eat.  They're a big animal and it takes a lot of energy to make their annual migration.  They can be caught on fly at any hour of the day, they're just a lot more unforgiving when the sun is shining.  My advice is practice, practice, practice.