You’re on a skiff with a fly rod, watching a big tarpon cruise your way. You make a solid presentation. The fish starts to track. Then the gills flare, its mouth opens and sucks in the fly, you raise the rod to set…and completely whiff. Lifting the rod the second a tarpon eats is a rookie mistake, but with a little discipline and a cool head, you’ll rarely miss the stick. Here’s the drill.
Illustrations by: Jason Schneider
1 | Stop & Go
When a tarpon is headed your way, don’t freak out. Keep your rod low and pointed straight at the fish. Resist the urge to begin stripping before you think the tarpon sees the fly. Once it gets keyed in, let its initial reaction dictate how slow or fast you move the bug. As a general rule, I’ll pause if the fish gives chase; if it stops tracking, I’ll start stripping a little faster.
2 | Point Taken
When the tarpon eats, keep stripping with a slow, steady pace. The point of the hook must be touching the inside of the tarpon’s mouth before you strip-set. If you don’t wait until you feel the point make contact, there’s a good chance the fly is just floating around in that big mouth. The instant the tarpon feels tension, all it has to do is spit, and it’s game over.
3 | Long Drive Home
When you feel resistance against the fish’s mouth, strip long and hard. But be warned; this will more than likely send the tarpon into a frenzy. Maintain tension on the fish by keeping a solid grip on your line as it slides through your fingers onto the reel. Do all of this with a low rod angle to put a deep bend in the butt of the rod, which is where all the power lies.