Hey Tom I was gonna post on your blog but just thought I would ask on this. We are having a hell of a time the last four years actually catching tarpon on the fly rods. That what we started going down there for. Both my buddies I go down with we guided in Montana so we know how to fly fish just needed some pointers on getting them to eat a fly. When should I use a natural color fly or when would I use a bright color fly. Or does it matter that much. The problem is I keep tying all these flies and nothing has been consistent besides the palolo worm flies I tied up and we were lucky enough to catch the hatch on the right day last year. Just any tips or pointers would be great. Thanks Tom.
I can certainly sympathize with you. Tarpon can be easy or the most difficult fish to catch on fly. It sounds like you have had some luck, but you are looking for more consistency.
I will give you my advice, but I will also preface that advice by saying that if you were to ask another guide or angler, he may give you the opposite advice...and you know what...both might work equally as well. Tarpon fishing changes and certain spots fish differently than others. So take all advice you get with a grain of salt, go try it where you are fishing. If it works, keep doing it, if it doesn't then discard it and try some different things.
When you are guiding in Montana, the difference between a size 16 and a size 18 fly may not look like much to a rookie, but you know that it can mean the difference between matching the hatch perfectly and actually catching fish to not matching it at all and catching nothing. Size and shape are also crucially important and a fly change could mean the difference in a big day or just a few fish. Flies are important in tarpon fishing as well, but I would say that presentation is more important.
I only have 6-8 flies that I have tied for my tarpon season. Sure, I mess around on the vise and tie up all sorts of creations that I hope will unlock some aggression in the fish, but the truth is that I use light and dark Keys style flies, light and dark Steve huff Ballyhoo flies, Worm flies and light and dark Toad style flies regularly. With those flies, you can probably get a fish to bite.
I tie them larger and smaller for different situations. I would like to be able to tell you exactly when to put on a large one or a small one but the truth is that you have to experiment for yourself. When the fish get tough to bite, try something opposite of what you are doing...sometimes it works. If you are getting rejection after rejection on tiny light colored flies on the oceanside, what harm will it do to try a big black one? Sometimes it works.
More importantly, however is the presentation. Could you go down a size in your shock tippet? I am routinely using 40 lb fluorocarbon now. When I started guiding, guys used 100 lb Mason. Could you tie smaller, more compact knots? Could you throw a longer leader? Could you use a clear fly line? Every one of these things can help catch more fish if used properly.
I say used properly because some people make the mistake of going to a clear line but then they have no idea where their fly is. This is not good. I'm sure you are a good caster and can keep track of where the fly is with a clear line, but many can not. If not, you would be better with a conventional line. Also, with leader length, only go as far as you can turn over effectively. This obviously changes with the weather. Calm days allow long leaders while the wind sometimes has us cut back the leader length.
Lastly, work on developing the best angle for presentation. Trying to position the boat so that you are getting the fly in front of and keeping it in front of as many fish in the school as possible for as long as possible will definitely result in more bites. right angle shots will catch fish and some days that is what seems to work best, but the highest chance of a bite on ocean movers is to get the fly in front of as many fish as possible and keep it in their face as long as possible. make it super easy for them to eat it. If they have to go out of their way or leave the school, the chances go down. I have seen days where moving the boat 10 feet to the left or right made a big difference in the number of bites we got. Of course, as the tide goes in or out, the depth changes and you will need to continue to move the boat to maintain the same angle on consistently moving fish.
There are many exceptions to all of this. Those are just my thoughts off of the top of my head. Get out there, try many different things. Continue to experiment and take notes on what worked and where, exactly, you were on the tide cycle. Then try to replicate that again tomorrow.
I hope this helps! Don't get frustrated. Everyone is having the same trouble. Fish with confidence and don't give up.
All the best,