Key West in spring is arguably the best location to sight fly fish for tarpon in the world. However, since it is so well known that it is the best, it has a double edged sword. The migrating tarpon, who can live as long as 80 or more years, have been conditioned to the onslaught of anglers who converge on Key West to ply their talents against this most worthy game fish.
I have been fly fishing for tarpon since the early 90’s, and there is no doubt in my mind, these fish have learned to refuse certain flies, colored floating lines, and larger shock tippits over the years. I have seen the transformation through my very own eyes. So, I decided to go the stealth mode when conditions warrant such actions, like calm and clear water conditions that we encountered this past May.
I decided to use an 11 wt rod for the toads that we encounter in Key West, but shock tippit down to 2 ft of 50 lbs Sugar Premium fluorocarbon and make the complete leader about 12 ft using Slim Beauty knots which are less bulky than Blood knots and Bimini Twist knots. My dimensions where 60 lbs for the butt line of 4 ft, 40 lbs for the next segment of 4 ft, a 16 lb class segment of 2 ft (don’t want to kill a fish for glory here, they are way too valuable, so I am not IGFA whatever) and the shock of 2-3 feet to round out the leader. Obviously, one can change the leaders to the conditions. If the wind is blowing 30 knots, you logically make the leader 9 ft to get it to lay straight when casting. It’s not rocket science, here.
I also have changed the fly line itself for a more stealthy design. the line is the new Monic Tropical Seamless Phantom Tip (clear) with a fluorescent green body to blend in the tropical green blue waters off Key West.
The flies have to be sparsely dressed so as not to put off a charging tarpon ready to open the maw and gulp the bug down. If you need help on deciding on a fly, read Andy Mills book, “A Passion for Tarpon”, because he has put an inordinate amount of time into these thoughts. The guy just came out of mothballs and won going away, the Golden Fly Tarpon Tournament, this past spring. Ya, he has the gift.
The whole week was calm with clear water and I was able to hook and jump 15 tarpons with an uncountable amount of eats and follows. I landed 7 with one going over 150 lbs. Many anglers were having difficulty with the clear conditions and I felt that the Monic Phantom Tip made the difference for those pesky Key West old beasts to close the deal and bite the fly. This fly line does not stretch, so your hook set on the dinosaurs are direct drive and there is no question as to whether you gave it a good whack……. er, strip strike. (Don’t ever lift the rod to strike)
I highly suggest getting the Monic Tropical PT line. Your time on the water will not be hampered by putting off tarpon, but by watching the Silver King jump to the sky. It is the greatest sight fly fishing bite on the planet.
Chris Travis DDS
Host, Hooked on the Fly TV
Director, North Coast Steelhead Alliance-USA
Associate Life Member-Lower Keys Guides Association