fly fishing for tarpon in June near Key West

Tarpon Fly Fishing In Key West


Key West and fly fishing for tarpon are forever intertwined in my mind. This might just be the best year round tarpon fishery out there, I certainly believe so. Tarpon are the glamour species of saltwater fly fishing. These giant fish have an incredible power in them that is hard to grasp until you have hooked into one for yourself. Tarpon fly fishing is a mountain top experience. Once you have done battle with the silver king you are never the same again. No fish test your nerves, your skill and your heart quite like tarpon do.



The magical thing about tarpon fly fishing is that you can maneuver the fly in order to get the bite. Tarpon that are not in the mood or have other things on their minds will take a fly that is presented properly. In time you will learn to read a dinosaur’s body language and can manipulate the fly to get the grab. I forgot to mention the grab is insane. It’s something you replay in your head over and over again. Whether it sips it off the surface or it looks like someone dropped a piano in 4 feet of water it’s one of the craziest things in fly fishing.


Fly Fishing Tarpon In The Marquesas Keys And Key West


The Key West tarpon fishery is made up of two vastly different fisheries. The majority of the year we fly fish for tarpon on the gulf side flats and in the basins of the Florida keys. This environment includes, channel edges, banks, and mangrove lined islands. The tarpon on the gulf side are generally more relaxed and quite a bit more cooperative easier on most days. Some of these tarpon are locals that call Key West and the Marquesas Keys home year round. Starting in February and March seasonal tarpon start to move into the back country, and lay up around the basins and banks. They will use them at certain times well into the summer.


In late April the famed annual tarpon migration begins on the beaches of Key West, the Lower Keys, and the Marquesas. The yearly tarpon migration in the Florida Keys draws anglers from around the world to fly fish for the silver king. As the tarpon move East and Westbound in great numbers we stake out and intercept their path. These ocean side tarpon can be tough to feed at times, but patience usually pays huge dividends. They can be caught and the huge schools of tarpon swimming in crystal clear water is breathtaking. As an added bonus we often see jumbo permit on the beach too.




 Fly Fishing For Tarpon Tackle Advice For Key West


A lot of people use a 12wt fly rod when fly fishing for tarpon. I prefer a 10 or 11wt because of a softer presentation, and I don’t like casting with a broomstick. The fly must get to right spot without spooking the fish before you ever need to worry about fighting one anyway. I suggest bringing the biggest rod you are accurate with in the 40 -60 ft distance range.


Reels need to be high quality with a smooth drag, and plenty of backing. A minimum of 300 yds is needed and 400 plus yards is better. Gel spun backing is great for some added capacity on the flats Nautilus, Tibor, Allen and Hardy all make quality products for tarpon fishing in Key West and the Marquesas. You are more than welcome to use my gear if need be, or I can help you select an outfit.



Key West Tarpon Flies


I usually tie my own original flies I have developed for tarpon in Key West and The Lower Keys. If you want to bring some flies for your trip I suggest tan and chartruese tarpon toad patterns tied on a strong 1/0 hook. Gurglers are great for juvenile tarpon, palolo worm flies and tarpon bunnies in multiple colors are useful as well. If you like to tie flies give me a call for more detailed information, you can also visit my page Key West flies for tarpon.

For information on tarpon conservation and tagging in the Florida Keys and Key West visit

fly fishing for tarpon near Boca Chica Key
fly fishing for tarpon in Sugarloaf Key
fly fishing for tarpon on the flats
Florida Keys fly fishing guide tarpon season
rods and reels fly fishing for tarpon
key west tarpon fies

Tarpon Fly Fishing Tips For Key West



1. Learn to present the fly on a back cast or back handed. Nothing will help you catch fish more than this skill. Practice it as much as you can before your trip.Tarpon are always on the move and can show up at all angles around the boat at any time.  Quickness and a good backhand make a world of difference while tarpon fly fishing, and a little practice can tip the odds in your favor on the flats.


2. PRACTICE as often as possible before your trip in 15 – 30 minute sessions. Learn to double haul to help with line speed and distance. Practice when it’s windy and pratice casting into the wind. Fly fishing tarpon is about speed and accuracy on the flats. Get comfortable at 40 – 60 feet with only 2 false cast.


3. Lead the fish. Tarpon are swimming most of the time and the fly needs to be there before they are.  If you can try to imagine the tarpon coming at the boat it will help when you are practicing. Lay an object that will blow around in the grass and pratice leading it by 6- 10 feet. Especially when targeting ocean fish during tarpon season.


4. Learn to set the hook without lifting the rod tip. A strip strike is absolutely critical. When you set the hook while fly fishing for tarpon, you need to do it quickly with maximum travel of your stripping arm. The longer the strip the better your hookset. When I’m strip setting on a tarpon my hand often ends up behind my back. Listen closely now. Don’t ever lift the rod when the tarpon eats your fly. This is the mistake I see made the most when fly fishing for tarpon.

5. Work on your presentation. The softer the presentation the better. Try to avoid the fly fine slapping the water, this will turn a happy tarpon into a grumpy one. When fishing  for laid up tarpon on the flats of Key West this will be very handy. Ideally we are trying to keep the fly just in front of, and slightly above the eye level of the fish as long as we can.


Finally, don’t overthink it. These are awesome game fish that will make your heart pound and your knees knock. Remember it’s just a fish after all. Laugh at yourself when you screw up and have fun with it. Trial and error pave the way to becoming a successful fly fisherman on the flats.


Visit here for information on fly fishing for tarpon in Tampa and the West Coast of Florida.