Summer is officially here and it’s also the start of our juvenile tarpon season on Pine Island. The big migratory schools, which usually show up in early April, are still here but their numbers are tapering off as they move further up the coast. The little resident fish, and by "little" I mean any tarpon under 30 pounds, will start sliding out of their hiding spots and become a regular sight on the inshore flats and residential canals all along the coast.
If you’re a fly angler, these are the perfect saltwater gamefish. You can target them with an easy casting 8-weight, they’ll eat a variety of simple patterns, and with the right leader you can have them whipped in just a few minutes. So let’s talk about that leader system for these juvenile tarpon.
When I started guiding two decades ago, back in the Monofilament Era, tarpon leaders were remarkably complex creations of several 12 to 80lb test line segments held together by a mix of Bimini Twists, Homer Rhode loops, and Huffnagal knots. Each leader usually took a quarter of Monday Night Football to construct before they were attached to their designated fly and snapped into something called a stretcher box. Once there, they would wait in straightened silence for springtime.
Fluorocarbon, which is effortless to keep straight compared to mono, changed all of that. Tarpon leaders can now be tied while motoring away from the ramp and I don’t miss those mind-numbing leader building sessions at all.
For small tarpon I use Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon to create a 10’ leader I call a "4-3-2-1." That simply means 4’ of 40lb, 3’ of 30lb, 2’ of 20lb which is the class tippet, and just over 1’ of 40lb for a shock tippet. If you think you’ll encounter larger fish then bump that last part up to 60lb, which will withstand a big tarpon’s rough jaw even better. All these lengths are joined together by double surgeon’s knots which are effortless and hold at nearly 100% of the line’s strength. The fly is attached to the shock tippet with a perfection loop, which I also use for all my spinning lures, and that’s it.
If you tie your knots properly, and test them afterwards, this leader won’t let you down. It’s simple, effective, and very inexpensive compared to prepackaged tarpon leaders which can cost up to $10 each. Give it a try and be thankful that you don’t have to fill up a stretcher box anymore.