Top thrill time: The greatest thrill in fly-fishing is available within minutes of our shores: large tarpon. Prevailing early morning easterly winds create calm conditions for early risers to scout the beaches for fish between 80 and 150 pounds that are easily seen as they roll on the surface. Quiet nights have them relaxed and happy, which encourages them to eat.
Technique: A few trips will help you find the beach areas they prefer, usually ones with baitfish. Having the sun at your back makes their silver bodies easier to see as they slowly roll on the surface. I have seen them inside the swim markers. Shallow water will improve your chances. A push pole is ideal for stealthily putting your boat ahead of moving fish. Electric motors would be necessary in deeper water, but they are more likely to alert the fish to your presence. The tarpon should come to you for a head-on shot, the most successful approach.
Prepare: An 11- or 12-weight fly rod with a floating or a clear sink-tip lines that can be comfortably cast to 50 feet is needed. A 10-foot leader with a 60-pound butt section, 20-pound class tippet and 60- to 80- pound shock tippet will attach to your fly. A toad pattern (such as the fly of the month featured May 6 on the Gulf & Bay page) is ideal, although Keys-type flies are also popular. Lighter color flies will replace combinations of black and purple for early morning and low-light conditions as the day brightens. Yellow polarized glasses offer the best visibility. Resist setting the hook with a couple of hard strip strikes until you feel the fish. Then hang on for a thrill.
Fly fisherman Pat Damico charters lowers Tampa Bay and can be reached at captpat.com or (727) 504-8649.