Fish like Diana does. In this post Diana Rudolph shares her tips for tarpon fishing – everything from the knots she uses in her leader to staying cool and collected.
The tarpon is perfectly designed for a fly rod. From aggressive bites to acrobatic jumps to tail pumping power, the tarpon has it all and is unquestionably my favorite species to pursue. When fishing for tarpon, anything can happen and at some point, it will. It is extremely important to be very familiar with your tackle and critical of your knots and rigging. I rig my own, because if something goes wrong, I know whom to blame. I also never want to be questioning another person’s knots or whether my knots will hold while I am trying to hook or fight a fish. If my knot doesn’t look quite right, I retie it. Confidence is key.
I start by spooling my reels with RIO’s 30# Dacron backing. I prefer this to any kind of gel-spun product, as it does not cut my hands during the fight. The backing should be spooled on tight (so tight you need a glove) so it doesn’t compress when you squeeze it. Anything between 200-300 yards is more than adequate depending on where you are fishing and how big the fish are. I tie a bimini loop at the tag end of the backing and use a loop-to-loop connection between the backing and fly line. In the past, I whipped my own loops on the running line end of the fly line; however, RIO’s loops are extremely strong and I now do not find this step necessary. Be sure the loops come together in a tight square knot configuration. If they don’t, the connection will be considerably weaker and will eventually break. I fish the floating RIO Tarpon line the majority of the time, but occasionally fish the intermediate line and tip. It is always a good idea to have them along, preferably rigged and ready on another reel and rod.
Because I typically fish 16# and 12#, I cut off the loop at the line’s front taper and tie a standard 7-turn nail knot with 5’ of 50-pound RIOMax tippet, making a clean, smooth connection. This material has a medium stiffness and binds nicely to the fly line. If the butt section is too stiff, the nail knot has a tendency to slip and the fly often lands unpleasantly. A little bit of suppleness goes a long way. If you are fishing 20# tippet, a modified nail knot or Albright is a better choice, because after a few fish a standard nail knot has a tendency to pull. I follow this with 3’ of 40# of the same material.
Next, I use RIO’s Hard Saltwater mono for the class tippet. On one end of the class, I tie a bimini and on the other, I connect a 12” or less piece of 50-80# RIO Heavy Shock tippet with an improved blood knot or huffnagle. A huffnagle is used when joining a fairly light piece of class tippet to a heavier shock (i.e. 12# to 80#). The improved blood will not compress and come together well with extreme diameter differences. This leader totals about 11 feet. It can be shortened or lengthen for different situations and conditions, but the proportions should remain about the same. If tying leaders is intimidating, simply tie a surgeon’s knot at the end of the 40# and let RIO do the work.with the big fish rolling through early. I say typically because I have had my best fishing in February, but this is not predictable. These are resident fish of the Gulf that move into and around the flats and lakes of places like Florida Bay when conditions are right. A string of warm, windless days usually prompts this incredible fishing. Nothing is as warming on a February winter evening or morning as the sight of a big lazy tarpon sunning herself in dirty water. Trust me.
I have been fortunate enough to learn many tips and techniques from unbelievably talented guides and anglers. Pay attention to what they have to say and what they do, you will acquire a great deal of knowledge. Things can happen really fast when tarpon fishing, so try to slow everything down. I once told my best friend, Lori Ann Murphy, to pretend like she was fishing in “Jell-O”. Sounds fun, eh? The point is that you must remain calm, try to
take your time and attempt to be very deliberate about letting the fish eat,
setting the hook, clearing the line and fighting the fish.