Fly Fish Tarpon


Being a long-time fly fishing guide, if I was given only one fish to fly fish for, for the rest of my life, 365 days a year – hands down – it would be the tarpon. Even though English fly fishermen were catching tarpon in this area in the late 1800’s, the sport of modern fly fishing for tarpon has come alive within the last 20 years and I was one of the first guides in this area involved in it.  That’s why after fly fishing tarpon for more than 20 years, the behavior of the tarpon has become second nature to me.   Often I’m asked the best time of the year to fish tarpon in this area.  I answer the question by saying:  we have a huge resident tarpon population and I’ve had fly fishermen catch tarpon twelve months of the year.

However, the absolute best time to fly fish for tarpon is during their annual migration. This occurs primarily in May and June, and can start as early as mid-April depending upon water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

My years of experience and knowledge gives me a professional edge over other guides.  My fly fishermen benefit also from the flies I use, the type of boat I run for tarpon and my teaching skills.

As far as flies, I use some of the standard tarpon patterns but I’ve also developed patterns that work exceptionally well in our area.  This is just one of the reasons my fly fishermen seem to have outstanding numbers of hookups.

My tarpon boat is a 20’2″ Action Craft (8′ beam) flats skiff powered by a 225 hp Yamaha V-Max HPDI engine with three powerful electric motors.  The boat is not only fast, but roomy and comfortable.  One female fly rodder from Sun Valley, Idaho, called my boat “Capt. Mike’s Tarpon Limousine”.  I can fish two fly fishermen at the same time – from both large casting decks forward and aft.  Both positions hook up equally as much.  And, it’s great fun when both casters hook up at the same time!  And it does happen!  Makes for great organized confusion.

Because of the speed and the range of my boat, I’m able to run to many different tarpon areas during the course of a fishing day, if necessary.  Bottom line result:  my fly fishermen get more casts to more fish which means more hookups.  In a fly fisherman’s consideration in choosing a guide, boats do make a difference – something I’ve learned through my longtime pursuit of tarpon.

Some anglers get intimidated thinking about casting an 11wt, 12wt or 13wt fly rod for tarpon.  Fly fishermen are able to benefit from my background as an FFF (Federation of Fly Fishers) Certified Fly Casting Instructor.  I’m a patient teacher for the novice to the advanced fly fisherman.  It’s not uncommon for my anglers who have never before cast a tarpon fly rod catch their first tarpon with me.  I fondly remember one tarpon season I had 13 absolute novices who, under my tutelage, caught their first tarpon on fly.

Tarpon fly fishermen have probably heard about fly fishing for tarpon in Hommossassa and the Florida Keys.  Fly fishermen in the Sanibel Captiva area get substantially more casts during an average day than those other locations.  It’s simple:  more casts equal more hookups!

While it’s nice to cast 70-75 feet to a tarpon if you’re at that skill level, here it isn’t necessary.  Because of the large numbers of tarpon and the “daisy chaining” situations, men, women and children making a cast as short as 30 feet have hooked up and caught tarpon with me.  There’s no question that the Sanibel Captiva area is truly the place for novice fly fishermen to get their feet wet.

Let me explain “daisy chaining” tarpon.  That’s where tarpon are swimming in a circle head to tail.  From a guide’s point of view, I see more “daisy chaining” tarpon in a day than the Keys guides see all season.  The benefit of “daisy chainers” is that we’re able to get closer to the tarpon and they seem to eat flies readily.  They represent a target that isn’t moving fast.  Because it’s like a stationary target a fly fisherman can get numerous casts into the “daisy chain”.  A fly fisherman can take his time and be more deliberate with his casts and get more casts into a “daisy chain” than in other situations.

What to expect 12 months of the year:

January/February:  the earliest I’ve had a fly fisherman hook up on a tarpon was January 16th.  My best winter day was February 14th a couple of years ago.  A fly rodder jumped 9 tarpon with not one fish under 100 pounds, all laid-up fish.  January and February are “iffy” months because the water temperature in the inside bays has to be over 73 degrees in order for the tarpon to show up.  It’s not something you can book in advance and count on.  It’s “situation fishing” dependent on the water temperature.  If you’re here on Sanibel and Captiva at that time and the water temperature is right, we can go after them.

March to mid-April:  the water is generally warming up to over 73 degrees.  We begin seeing more laid-up resident tarpon in our crystal clear water.  While we can count on seeing more tarpon the last week of March to the middle of April the fishing is weather dependent.

Mid-April through June:  the annual migration can start around the middle of April and goes through June.  These are the tarpon that run along the Gulf of Mexico beaches as well as spilling into the inside bays.  “They’re everywhere”.

During the months of July, August and September, the tarpon migration is pretty much over; but, there can be good spotty tarpon action from day to day.  What we find is a mixture of resident tarpon and some migrating fish heading back south along the beaches.  Those days you can find fish holding in Charlotte Harbor, some fish stack in close to Ft. Myers Beach and Estero and the inside bays of Sanibel and Captiva.

October, November and December:  the fishing is sporadic but resident fish can still be found from time to time monthly in the inside bays.