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The Backstage Pass

The Top Seven Tarpon Flies

May 03, 23

Silver Kings. Megalops Atlanticus. Bucketmouth. Sabalo…with mouths designed for feeding, jumps that will toss a fly or cut a leader, and possessing a down-right nastiness when hooked, tarpon are a gamefish without a peer. They can be targeted in a variety of habitats from mangrove swamps and channels to white sand flats. Ranging in size from smaller, resident juvenile tarpon up to 40 to 50-pounds on up to migratory specimens tipping the scales at 125 to 150-pounds, these fish swim in waters from Costa Rica to the Bahamas.

Wherever your saltwater fly fishing trip may take you, the opportunity to cast to one of the grandest fly fishing species on the planet may present itself. Because of this, we thought it very important to give you our top 7 favorite tarpon flies.

+ View the Tarpon Equipment List

McKnight’s Homeslice
Created by Doug McKnight, but fished by many hardcore tarpon anglers, the Homeslice is a classic baitfish imitation, but with a McKnight signature spin on the traditional baitfish pattern. Here’s a great personal tutorial from McKnight himself. Carry this fly and catch more ‘poon. Simple enough. 

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Ruoff’s Laid Up Tarpon 
Tied by legendary Florida Keys guide Rick Ruoff, this fly is responsible for many anglers' first-ever tarpon or the lynchpin to dozens of grand slams. Tied so it lands softly, yet has a lot of movement once stripped, this fly is effective for tarpon from Costa Rica jungle tarpon to cruising fish in Cuba

Merriman’s Tarpon Toad
Simply put, the Tarpon Toad is a staple for every tarpon box. The modern version of this fly was developed by Gary Merriman, owner of Atlanta’s Fish Hawk Fly Shop, in the 1990s and stays a perpetual favorite for hungry juvenile tarpon as well as large migratory fish. Like the Laid-Up Fly, this fly is responsible for a lot of first-time tarpon catches. 

EP’s Peanut Butter/Everglades Special
Any “Best of” list featuring saltwater flies must have an Enrico Puglisi pattern. And, dedicated tarpon anglers continually choose the Peanut Butter/Everglades Special for its lifelike qualities. With special fibers designed by Puglisi, this fly imitates a variety of baitfish, which means it is ideal for enticing a tarpon to eat a well-presented fly. Once that happens, the rest is up to you. 

Apte’s Black Death
Stu Apte and tarpon go hand-in-hand. So it is only fitting that his Black Death fly make the list. Not only does the Black Death fly cast easily—it has an elongated head and tapered body to help cut through the wind—the contrasting colors imitate the lateral line on a fleeing baitfish. Tied with an oversized eye, a hungry tarpon has plenty of key on.

With any list of the things you must carry to ensure the best possible saltwater fly fishing trip, the list could go on and on. A case can also be made that one can never have too many flies. So, because of that, here’s an honorable mention tarpon fly to have…just in case. 

Haskin’s Gurgler
Created by Lee Haskin, a passionate angler and tier since he was 10—he started in the late 1950’s—this fly is a must for any angler targeting juvenile tarpon. As it is slowly stripped, the fly is designed to pop and “gurgle” on the surface. You can guess what should happen next…a tarpon strikes the fly. If that doesn’t sound fun, then maybe you should stick to knitting. CHECK IT OUT HERE.

Palolo Worm
This is a fly pattern used in South Florida during the late spring and summer months. The palolo worm hatch in the Florida Keys is as iconic of an event as the green drake hatch on the Railroad Ranch waters of the Henry's Fork. Many Keys guides and anglers believe that the palolo worm provides some kind of nutrients needed for tarpon reproduction, although, that has yet to be proven. Some anglers tie patterns with red pieces of foam as well as with red, trimmed pieces of rabbit strips. Check out this article for more information on the palolo worm flies and hatch in the Florida Keys.

 

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