Baby Tarpon Slam Fest

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Photo by Joel Dickey

Photo by Joel Dickey

By Bruce Chard

It’s fall in the Florida Keys and the excitement builds early in the morning on the way to the boat ramp.

Its 83 degrees and still pitch dark outside. The AC in the truck is trying to cut through the high humidity. You can see limp flags, but doubt lingers that the water is actually glass calm until you reach that first bridge where you can inspect the true water conditions. AHHHH YES! Glass.

DSC_5669This not only confirms the guarantee of at least an enjoyable morning on the water, but also creates an instant increase in moisture build up on the outside of your lips, as you nervously lick them over and over. With every lick the RPMs on the truck engine increase as we envision how good the baby tarpon fishing should be.

These calm, hot and humid weather conditions combined with an increase in floating sea grass build up are common in the fall and play an important role in reducing oxygen content in the shallow water by early in the morning. This forces shrimp to leave the protection of the sea grass below and drives them up to the surface in search of more oxygen. As the shrimp try to reach the surface and break through the sea grass the baby tarpon and snappers are there to greet them.

Any shrimp that make it to the surface then get plucked up by any number of different sea birds hovering above. This creates an incredible feeding frenzy that can all be seen on the surface of the water from a long way away. Baby tarpon rely on these shrimp hatches as a main food source. Staging up in these areas during the fall months allows them to take advantage of shrimp hatches whenever the conditions are right.

I hear many of my anglers comment on how much they enjoy playing with baby tarpon. Notice how I didn’t mention that they said catching baby tarpon. Like their much bigger brothers, baby tarpon have a rock hard bucket mouth that denies easy hook penetration.

They like to show themselves on the surface when rolling to take in oxygen. They also like to aggressively take flies and burst out of the water with jumps that every fly angler yearns to experience. Not only do these little buggers like to jump but they like to jump and jump some more. This offers fly anglers a circus of acrobatic moves that commonly result in the fly being tossed.

Since baby poons are just like the bigguns, they have the same low hookup to landing ratio. Maybe even a little lower, for the babies jump more, increasing the odds of the fly dislodging. These little guys are a favorite because of their aggressive tendency to eat a fly, their intense jumping displays and lack of fighting power. Just knowing that you don’t have to crank in 200 yards of backing 4 times within the next 40 minutes to land a tarpon is somewhat soothing.

You can find baby tarpon hanging out almost anywhere. Deep water house canals seem to be the most prevalent areas, along with back country grass flats near channel edges or along mangrove islands. But the easiest way is to look for the hovering birds. They can be seen flying anywhere from ocean side flats to far back country islands.

It almost doesn’t matter what type of fly that you choose to toss at a smaller tarpon. They are so aggressive that they like to play with almost any type colored streamer, whether it’s on the surface or slightly below. When the shrimp hatch is on, presentation goes out the window. Just get the fly into the splashing feeding zone with no slack and start moving the fly right away.

A shrimp fly can obviously be effective during shrimp hatches so make sure to have some in your box. A quick strip can often times intrigue them to attack the fly with so much speed that they come out of the water trying to eat the fly. It is feeding actions like these, along with the endless array of jumps, that help make fly fishing for baby tarpon a favorite among most salt water fly anglers. I have been lucky enough to team up with Captain Joel Dickey and together we have dialed in the fall Florida Keys baby tarpon shrimp hatch slam fest. For more info please feel free to reach out to either of us.

Captain Joel Dickey –

Captain Bruce Chard –

Bruce Chard
Gink & Gasoline
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