Tips for Fishing to Spooky Tarpon on Clear, Calm Days

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

What’s a big tough fish like you so afraid of?

Fishermen, that’s what. I’m told that, in the early days of tarpon fishing on the fly, big fish charged big flies and ate with reckless abandon. You know how stories about the old days are, but I certainly missed that experience. The tarpon I know are super spooky and show all the signs of highly pressured fish.

On clear, calm days when the water is still and visibility is good, tarpon fishing can be a bitch. It’s not uncommon to see fish over a hundred pounds run in terror from a three-inch fly dropped thirty feet ahead of them. If you’re going to get a fish, you have to be on your game.

Some of the best techniques for catching them are the same ones you’d use on any species of spooky fish. They work, but with tarpon you have to do everything right. They are an unforgiving fish in every respect.

Here are some tips to help you get the better of them.

Keep it down

Tarpon have great ears. When the surface of the water is like glass they can hear conversation on the boat. I saw a tarpon spook once at the sound of my camera shutter. That should give you an idea of how well they hear. Keep the chatter to a minimum and the volume low.

Dress for success

Glass calm days are not the time for the red fishing jacket. Tarpon have great eye sight and even a brightly colored ball cap can give you away. Dress in colors like light blue that blend into the surroundings.

Take a Chill Pill

A tarpon’s eye is attracted to motion just like ours. Keep your movement slow and easy. If you are prone to talking with your hands, maybe you should just keep it to yourself. Don’t rock the boat when casting. The fish can hear the water against the sides. Cool, calm and collected is the way to go.

Longer Leads succeed

Increase the distance by which you lead the fish. Thirty feet or more is not out of the question when fish are spooky. Land the fly nice and soft and get the slack out of your line. Then just try to keep your heart rate down as the fish closes on your fly.

Clear Lines Rock

Clear lines like Airflo’s Tropical Ridge Clear work wonders. These lines let you make presentations that would spook fish before the fly lands with normal fly lines. When stealth is the order of the day, go clear.

Long Leaders Mean Eaters

Lengthen your leader to eighteen feet for calm conditions. It makes a real difference but it’s not without its challenges. Practice casting with extra long leaders to be sure you can turn the fly over and make a tight line presentation. If there’s grass in the water you’ll have your hands full keeping your leash clean but it will be worth the effort.

Keep it High and Tight

The slap of a heavy tarpon hook hitting the water at high speed will send fish running. To be sure your fly lands quietly, you need to throw a tight loop that straightens out well above the surface of the water. This takes the momentum of the cast out of the equation. When your fly lands it will be as if you just dropped it into the water.

Smaller is Better

Like with any species of highly pressured fish, sizing down your fly pays off. Keep some sparser, lighter patterns, in subdued colors in your box for calm days. Think of it as midge fishing for tarpon.

Go slow Mo Fo

Slow down your casting stroke. There is no wind to fight on glass calm days and long shots are seldom the norm. Slowing down your cast will land your fly softer and reduce the chances of your fly line spooking the fish. Don’t get in a hurry.

How Low Can You Go

Tarpon like to test your blood pressure by following your fly to the boat before eating it. As the fish gets closer he is more likely to see you looming over him. As the fish draws near, stoop to stay out of his line of vision. As you get lower, your ability to see the fish is reduced. The idea is to stay just high enough to see him. Hopefully he will eat the fly before he sees you.

Catching tarpon on clear, calm days is a nerve-wracking pursuit. It will test every ability you possess as an angler but I know of nothing more rewarding when you pull it off. I hope these tips help you overcome the challenges and land the fish of a lifetime.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Tips for Fishing to Spooky Tarpon on Clear, Calm Days

  1. Hey Louis you guys rock, great information, also sometimes very slow stripping, presentation also helps. Man I need to practice what I preach. I’ll try to remember all those great recommendations when I get to Ambergris at the end of May.

  2. Great info. I would love to fish for tarpon on a calm day. I seem to have the bad weather curse on all my saltwater trips. Fingers crossed for my trip next week. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Nice tight and concise article on fishing for Tarpon on clear, calm days. Stored under “Favourites” sub-folder Tarpon and to be re-read on hopefully a trip to “Isla Holbox” this year! Thanks.

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