Fishing for tarponTARPON: Tarpon are the largest, strongest, and most acrobatic of the Belize species. Even juvenile fish will put your angling skills to the test and strain your tackle beyond belief. Belize's tarpon fishery is primarily known for its small- to mid-sized specimens (20-70 pounds), although fish over 100 pounds are not uncommon. A large majority of these fish are local individuals which remain in Belize throughout the year. Migratory fish begin to show up around late March and numbers will increase significantly from April through July.
Belize offers the tarpon angler a very unique selection of diversified conditions, which range from inland river lagoons to the stereotypical shallow-water flats scenario.
Tarpon are attracted to Belize because of their affinity for brackish water. Like the snook, tarpon seem to prefer to forage and (especially) breed in waterways containing low salinity. The estuaries and coastal riverways of Belize meet these requirements perfectly. Adult and juvenile fish will often remain in the protected rivers and lagoons for lengthy periods. Here, they can menacingly loom at the top of the food chain and not be bothered by the larger predators of the open ocean.
Fishing Conditions: 'Mere are two types of fishing conditions you will find in Belize: river/lagoon fishing and/or flats and & channel fishing along the coast. The river/lagoon fishing will only be available from Belize River Lodge.
1. River and Lagoon Fishing: Fish will usually be in deep, murky water where sight fishing is difficult. Rolling fish are : somewhat common but blind casting is the general rule.
2. Flats and Channel Fishing: Fishing will be done from small skiffs in clear, shallow flats (3-5 feet deep) or in the tidal channels which connect the flats.
Spotting Fish: Individuals who have never fished for tarpon often think that such a large fish would be exceedingly simple to spot. When conditions are right and the fish are rolling on the surface, they are quite easy to see. Unfortunately, when the fish aren't rolling, they can be very difficult to see even in shallow water. There are several clues to look for when trying to locate fish, which include a slight surface disturbance or "nervous water" or, more frequently, looking for the dark backs of fish. It is essential that you wear a good pair of polarized glasses you must be able to spot the fish as soon as they are in your vicinity so as to allow time for an accurate presentation of your fly or lure.
FLY FISHING FOR TARPON - Presentation: Once cruising or rolling fish have been spotted, it is important to quickly and accurately place the fly in front of the fish's path. Tarpon are not easily spooked and you can place the fly quite close to them. A distance of about three to five feet is perfect. Allow the fly to sink to the level of the fish and then begin to strip it back with a slow, steady retrieve. This is the moment of truth. If all goes well and the tarpon is in the dining mood, the fish will greedily take the fly - wait until it turns before setting the hook. By doing this, the tippet will slide into the comer of the fish's mouth (the softest part) which theoretically sets you up for the best possible hooking angle. Tarpon have concrete-lined mouths, so a supersharp hook is an absolute necessity.
Correct hook setting will also help put the odds in your favor. Point the rod tip at the fish and firmly set the hook with your stripping hand only. Then keep your rod tip close to the water (to eliminate slack) and pump the rod sideways with short, sharp tugs as you pull on the line and the rod simultaneously. This sounds very nice on paper,but if you haven't caught one of these giant primordial beasts before, the sight of one inhaling your puny fly will give you a dangerously increased heart rate. All those years of calm control on the trout stream will instantly vaporize into a bumbling ball of nerves.
The Rod: The flies you'll use are not that big, nor are they heavy, so you won't need a big rod for the flies - it's for the fish. The ideal rod for Belize-sized tarpon is a 10 wt. You can get away with a stiff 9 wt, but if you hook a hundred-plus pound fish or your guide asks you to cast a 3/0 fly in a 20 knot breeze, you'll wish you had the backbone of a heavier rod. Rods listed in the bonefish section in 10 wt are ideal. A model with a beefed-up butt section for added power would be a wise choice.
Reel: Tough, no-nonsense reels are a must when you are playing tarpon. A strong, reliable drag is vital. The Pate Tarpon model or the less expensive Scientific Angler System II- 10/11 model are good choices.
Lines: The lines recommended in the bonefish section in appropriate sizes will work well.
Leaders and Tippets: For the novice tarpon angler, pre-made tarpon leaders by L.L. Bean or Climax will simplify things considerably. If you would like to learn the knots/leader dimensions, good reference books are Practical Fishing Knots by Lefty Kreh and Mark Sosin or Fly Fishing in Salt Water by Lefty Kreh. A brief recipe for a standard tarpon leader: it is tied in three sections totaling about 6-8 feet. Butt Section: 3-4 feet of 30-lb. test joined to the fly line with a nail knot. A perfection loop should be tied at the other end. Class Tippet 2-3 feet of 15-lb. test. Join to butt section by interlocking perfection loops. A Bimini Twist with a double surgeon's loop should be tied at the doubled end. Shock Tippet: 12 inches of 80-lb. test connected to the class tippet with an Albright Special knot. The fly gets connected to the other end of the shock with a Homer Rhodes loopknot.
Flies: When it.comes to fly preference, tarpon can go from greedy to fickle in a matter of hours. Slight variations in shape and color can often make a difference in the number of fish you'll catch. A selection of the following should cover you in all conditions (flies should be tied in sizes 2/0, 3/0, and 4/0); Cockroach, Chico's Shallow Water Tarpon (burnt orange/ grizzly, blue/griz., yellow/griz., green/griz.), Stu Apte (Apte Tarpon), Sea Bunny (olive, purple, tan), Lefty's Deceiver (various colors). Deceiver (red/yellow, chartreuse/white). Popping bugs, such as Gaines Saltwater Popper, can sometimes be very productive (red/white, blue/white).
Note: Those fishing in the Belize River area should bring brighter patterns (2/0-4/0): Whistler series, Seaducer, Lefty's Deceiver (red/yellow, chartreuse/white).
A Note on Lost Fish: The average fly fisherman only lands about 30 percent of "jumped" fish. The most common causes related to fish loss are dull hooks, poorly tied knots, and frayed tippet -super-sharp hooks and well-tied knots are of utmost importance! Carry a small hook file at all times.
SPINNING/CASTING FOR TARPON: Tarpon are a wonderful adversary for the light-tackle spin/casting fisherman because of their dependable eagerness to take a wide variety of plugs and their unparalleled fighting ability when hooked. The spin fisherman has a distinct advantage over the fly fisherman when blind casting because of the overall effectiveness a spinning or casting rod has when it comes to covering large expanses of water. When sight casting, a little more care should be taken to avoid spooking fish.
Presentation: The wide variety of lure types which follow all have very different actions and are retrieved at varying depths. As a general rule of thumb, tarpon like lures that are retrieved at a nice, easy pace. With this in mind, remember to take your time to make the lure act as tantalizingly as possible.
Lures (Surface): Rebel "Jumpin' Minnow" 4 1/2" 5/8 oz. (silver flitter and G-finish/gizzard shad) and Heddon Zara
Spook 4 1/2" 3/8 oz. (G-finish shad and G-finish pearl/red head). Heddon Lucky 13, 5/8 oz. 3 3/4" (silver flitter and white/red head).
Subsurface (Minnow Type): Rapala CD Mag 5 1/2" (silver/ black back) or Bomber Heavy Duty Magnum 16J,, 1 oz., 6" (silver/black).
Mirrolures: These popular lures have been very effective for tarpon for many years. Mirrolure 52M, 3 5/8 " 1/2 oz., shallow runner-, 65M, 3 3/16" 1 oz. deep runner; 38MR 3" 3/8 oz. (red/ white and green back/white belly).
Jigs: I oz. saltwater jig head with 6" sassy shad (chartreuse/ black back and natural shad). Bucktails from 1 to 1 1/2 oz. in yellow and white can also be productive.
Rods: When purchasing a rod, remember that it must have a fairly heavy action to aid in hook setting and to properly play a heavy fish. A few rods that meet these specifications are:
Note: The small teeth in a tarpon's mouth are very abrasive, so it is essential that you use at least l2 inches of 80 lb. shock tippet or a wire leader between your line and lure.