What's hot: Tarpon have come early and continue to improve. Bridges and passes have held them, and now large ones are migrating along our west coast. Start early in the morning. Easterly winds will have the gulf surface flat, allowing rolling tarpon to be seen for a long distance. They can be as close as inside swim markers. Definite pathways are followed with bait, tides and water depth helping develop a pattern. Figure out this pattern and set up.
Best opportunity: Fish coming straight to you are better than at an angle. Tarpon are lazy and want food at their level. Pick a shallow area providing good visibility and time to prepare a cast. Lead it far enough to have the fly at his level before stripping.
Going big: Hooking a large tarpon on a fly might be the greatest thrill in fly fishing. The key to shortening a fight is keeping the fish off balance, not allowing it to rest. Keeping your rod tip low, apply pressure in the direction opposite the fish's movement. When the tarpon swims to the right, apply pressure to the left using the rod's butt, not tip. Your body, not arms, will apply pressure constantly. If the fish is hooked on the right side of her mouth, have the shock tippet over the head and pull opposite. This rolls the fish on its side, disorienting and confusing it. Bow or extend the rod on jumps, creating slack to avoid a straight line to the fish. Otherwise, a break-off can occur.
Fly fisherman Pat Damico charters lower Tampa Bay and can be reached at captpat.com and (727) 504-8649.