"The little guys (we're talking Tarpon under 20 pounds here) will show up in lots of places. The popular spots are well-known, and the fish are hard to catch there...Sweat equity, as always, will lead you on some wild goose chases but will lead you to some remarkable fishing. A willingness to explore helps, as does a kayak or canoe."
Article and photos by Capt. John Kumiski All rights reserved © John A. Kumiski
Alex's prize- Alex got this tarpon in a small Everglades Pond.
In order to heave hackle at baby tarpon, you need to know where they live. You also need to know what kind of hackle to heave. The little guys (we're talking fish under 20 pounds here) will show up in lots of places. The popular spots are well-known, and the fish are hard to catch there. An example would be the Sebastian River. I could bring you there and show you 1000 rolling fish. You'd do well to get a bite, though.
Attempting to subdue- The fish is leadered but certainly hasn't given up.
If you're diligent you can find babies in many shallow waters of the east Florida lagoons during the summer months, especially in and at the mouths of creeks and culverts. Fish on the flats are here today and gone tomorrow. Share them with your buddies. Drainage and mosquito control canals and golf course ponds will hold them. If you find some in a place where they're trapped, don't tell anyone. If you do the word gets out and the fish quickly become uncatchable. Some secrets are worth keeping! Sweat equity, as always, will lead you on some wild goose chases but will lead you to some remarkable fishing. A willingness to explore helps, as does a kayak or canoe.
Now, on to the flies. Tarpon of all sizes like small baits, so keep the hook sizes down. Nothing can make you more crazy than finding fish pigging out on mosquitofish and your smallest fly is on a 1/0 hook. Mosquitofish are hard to imitate on any hook which will hold a tarpon.
Baby tarpon flies- A PolarFibre Minnow, a Gurgler, and a Seaducer
My favorite fly for baby tarpon is a small white Gurgler tied on a #4 Gamakatsu SC-15. It works surprisingly well in a variety of situations, and the visuals are a blast.
Baby tarpon- This Keys fish took a crab pattern
If the fish won't come up for the Gurgler then a PolarFibre minnow tied on the same hook is my next choice. Last on my short list is a small Seaducer tied with grizzly hackles, on the same iron. If these don't work feel free to experiment. While I prefer unweighted flies for these fish I've gotten them on Clouser Minnows, Merkins, Rattle Rousers, and all sorts of other offerings. Water depth will always affect fly choice. In deeper water or fast current something that sinks fast is a must. You need to be able to cover the water column.
Hand-sized tarpon- This typical canal-sized tarpon took a Gurgler
Like their bigger relatives, baby tarpon have rough lips. You need a 30 pound bite tippet to hold them. Tie the flies on with your favorite loop knot. Sharp hooks should go without saying.
Jack's first on fly- Jack Radloff used a small streamer fly to catch this tarpon
The delicacy of these fish isn't often mentioned. They will not take much abuse after capture. Handle them with care, and release them quickly. That 12-inch fish could live 40 years and hit 200 pounds. How many thrills could it provide in that time? Tarpon of any size are my favorite fish. Catch a few of these babies and you will quickly see why.
This is a re-post of John Kumiski's article from our original blog.
Capt. John Kumiski has been guiding fishermen in the waters surrounding the Kennedy Space Center for over 20 years. His books include Indian River Lagoon Chronicles, Redfish on the Fly, and Fishing Florida’s Space Coast. Contact him at 407.977.5207 or his website http://www.spottedtail.com/