Fly fishing for tarpon is about as good as it gets for fly anglers. It only takes one fish before the process becomes habit-forming. An unholy amount of dopamine floods the brain’s reward center when your fly line comes tight to a tarpon. Interventions are useless to those anglers obsessed with fly fishing for tarpon. Don’t seek help, seek tarpon.

The majority of fly fishing trips for tarpon remain a daytime adventure in Florida. The migration along the beach, back country tarpon, and even tarpon on the flats are all good options. But if you’re looking for tarpon chaos, that happens at night.

Tarpon After Dark

After dark, tarpon tend to toss wariness aside. On good nights, they binge-eat. In fact, my wildest stories have come from fly fishing charters for tarpon after dark. There’s the story about the tarpon jumping into and then back out of the boat, or the night that tarpon chased a school of pilchards into my boat. Recently, events that took place on a trip in early August, made for another fantastic story.

Fly fishing for tarpon

Tarpon to the boat at night

Telling that Story

The world needs another overly descriptive, superlative drenched  ‘EPIC FISH BATTLE’ story like the fly fishing film tour needs another heroic drone shot. This may surprise you, but often times fishing guides don’t make the best descriptive writers. We’re prone to produce pieces of literature that leave readers shuddering, grasping for the closest sharp object to gouge out their eyes. Taking incredible fishing experiences and cramming them into the limiting world of words is difficult. Like laboring to stuff an entire wardrobe into a carry-on bag; it’s just not going to happen.  You can’t pack it all.

But an experience that won’t likely be repeated soon should be documented, especially when it happens to someone like Michael, a genuinely good person. Add in the element that he’s just beginning his journey into saltwater fly fishing and the story is more compelling. And so, below is the account of a recent memorable fishing charter.

Michael’s Tarpon Experience

Glass minnow pattern fly

A size 6 glass minnow pattern on the bottom

Michael and his son Alec, joined me before sunrise for some early morning dock light fishing in Sarasota Bay. Summer is an incredible time to fly fish for juvenile tarpon on dock lights. Tarpon weren’t necessarily our target, but we found tarpon stacked up around a bridge and on the surrounding dock lights. Michael was using a 9 weight for juvenile tarpon in the 10-20 pound class, perfect size. They were eating small bait, so we went small too. We started with a tiny size 6 glass minnow pattern.

Michael casually mentioned that he had a fish. His fly line pointed straight down, far away from the juvenile tarpon that we’d been targeting. Curiously, we hadn’t seen the fish that had just eaten Michael’s fly. We watched the line inch away from a dock, pass across the front of the boat and trudge portside.  The fish paused for a moment, presumably to light the wick on the cannon it was about to shoot itself out of, then blasted off. It was deep into the backing it seemed immediately. We chased after it, following the mystery fish like a child being dragged by a great dane.  A few hundred yards away, we heard a refrigerator being dropped into the water, preceded by the faint sound of a clacking headshake. It sounded like a tarpon. It was large.

Tarpon fly fishing

Michael enjoyed the moment and  held on until the end

After twenty minutes, we still hadn’t seen the fish. The fish and skiff were in different zip codes. We’d get line back on the reel and the fish would take all of it and more back. Finally, whatever it was, anchored itself fifty feet in front of the boat and raged. Then in front of us, draped in darkness, the shimmering silver giant emerged. It was a tired jump, stalling out with half the tarpon still below the surface. The fish was entirely too large for a 9 weight.

The End

It became tug of war. Michael would lean on the fish and the fish would lean right back. As the pressure was beginning to wear on the giant tarpon, the fish was wearing on the fluorocarbon leader. Until the end, the tarpon had preferred open water, away from hazardous obstructions and dock pilings. That changed quickly. Our last moment with the tarpon was spent trying to turn it away from a dock piling. The strain on the leader became untenable. And then, the line went slack; the emptiest feeling in fishing. It was over.

For more information about dock light fishing trips, visit the charter options page of the website, or you can contact me at the phone number in the signature below.

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you on the water soon!

Capt. Brian Boehm
Quiet Waters Fishing
Guide at CB’s Saltwater Outfitters
Sarasota, FL