First described as a species in 1792, the Atlantic sailfish carries the scientific name of either Istiophorus albicans (Latreille, 1804) or Istiophorus platypterus
(Shaw in Shaw and Nodder, 1792). The former, more commonly used name
distinguishes it from the Pacific sailfish; some scientists disagree on
whether the two are in fact different species. The Atlantic sailfish is
one of the smaller members of the Family Istiophoridae, with a maximum
size of about 3.15 to 3.40 m in length and 100
kilograms. Females are generally larger than males. Distinguishing
features include a bill-shaped upper jaw which is circular in
cross-section and about twice the length of the lower jaw.
first of the fish's two dorsal fins is very long and tall (hence the
name "sailfish"), running most of the length of the body, with the 20th
ray as the longest. The first anal fin is set far back on the body, and
the second dorsal and anal fins are both short and concave, roughly
mirroring each other in size and shape. The pectoral and pelvic fins are
long, with the pelvic fins nearly reaching the origin of the first anal
fin. The pelvic fins have one spine and multiple soft rays fused
together. A pair of grooves run along the ventral side of the body, into
which the pelvic fins can be depressed. The caudal peduncle has double
keels and caudal notches on the upper and lower surfaces. The lateral
line is readily visible. Body color varies depending upon the fish's
level of excitement, but in general the body is dark blue dorsally and
white with brown spots ventrally. About 20 bars, each consisting of many
light blue dots, are present on each side. The fins are all blackish
blue except at the anal fin base, which is white.
The Atlantic sailfish's habitat varies according to water temperature
and in some cases wind conditions. At the northern and southern
extremes of their distribution, Atlantic sailfish appear only during the
warmer months. These seasonal changes in distribution may be linked to
prey migrations. Usually found in the warmer, upper layers above the
thermocline, the species often migrates into near-shore waters,
preferring temperatures between 21° to 28°C,
but is also capable of descending to rather deep water. In general, the
Atlantic sailfish is highly migratory and can be found from
approximately 40°N to 40°S in the western Atlantic Ocean and from 50°N
to 32°S in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. There is an aggregation off the
coast of West Africa. Although few records exist for the Mediterranean
sea, several juvenile specimens have been caught there. In the western
Atlantic Ocean, its highest abundance is in the Gulf of Mexico, the
Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic coast of Florida, where it is the
official state saltwater fish.
The Atlantic sailfish feeds mainly on small pelagic
fishes—particularly mackerels, tunas, jacks, halfbeaks, and
needlefish—but also eats cephalopods such as squid and octopus. Some
feeding occurs at the surface, as well as in midwater, along reef edges,
or along the bottom substrate.
Spawning may begin as early as April, but occurs primarily during the
summer months. (The exception is the eastern Atlantic, where spawning
can occur year-round.) Spawning in offshore waters beyond the 100 fathom
isobath has been reported from south of Cuba to the Carolinas. However,
off southeast Florida, the Atlantic sailfish moves inshore to shallower
waters to spawn near the surface in the warm season, with females
swimming sluggishly with their dorsal fins above the water's surface,
accompanied by one or more males. Fertilization is external. A 33-kilogram
female may shed up to 4.8 million eggs in three batches during a single
spawning. Atlantic sailfish larvae are approximately 0.3 cm at hatching, and they lack the elongated jaw characteristic of adult sailfish, which only begins to develop at about 0.6 cm. At 20 cm, all larval characteristics have disappeared and the juvenile has all the features of an adult.
~ Ref: http://marinebio.org, Aug, 2010
by Dr. Aaron Adams
photos by Aaron Adams
AS THE TIDE TURNED and began to flood, I poled the boat
across a shallow grass flat, just inside the sandbar that separated the
flat from the Intracoastal Waterway. Many of the large boats that
blasted past reminded me of Rodney Dangerfield’s short, destructive,
ill-fated yacht voyage in the movie Caddyshack. So when I
muttered ‘what a couple of Rodneys’ when two boats passing in opposite
directions neglected to slow down, and slammed loudly into each other’s
massive wakes, my fishing buddy Doug Hedges knew exactly what I was
talking about. It was amazing — we were close enough to the chaos of the
ICW that we could read the registration numbers on the sides of passing
boat hulls, and we were stalking tailing redfish. Except for us, these
redfish were unmolested.
You have to give Doug credit, he seems ready to try
something new at least once. And on the bow, he stood ready to cast to
the next tailer that came into range — with, of all things, a gurgler
tied to his tippet. Some folks know this is a good technique, but when I
suggest they try a surface fly for tough tailing redfish, most anglers
show a look of disbelief, even suspicion. But not Doug, he was all for a
A topwater fly is farthest from many angler’s minds when
they are casting to tailing redfish. The fish are, after all, digging
their noses in the bottom for shrimp, crabs, worms, or small
bottom-dwelling fish like gobies and blennies. Why on earth would an
angler in their right mind choose a surface pattern? After all, redfish
don’t eat with their tails. A topwater fly can be a good choice for
First, a redfish intent on digging out prey buried in the
bottom is often so focused that it doesn’t see it’s surroundings. This
is one reason it is possible to pole a boat right up to a tailing
redfish without being noticed until the boat almost overtakes the
feeding fish. On numerous occasions I’ve been able to wade close enough
to a tailing redfish to touch it with my rod tip. Actively tailing
redfish can also stir up enough bottom that visibility in their
immediate surroundings drops to zero, obscuring any fly in the murk. In
either case, even the most perfectly placed fly might not be noticed.
Second, even tailing redfish pick their heads up out of
the bottom every once in a while as they move on in search of more prey.
There is a good chance that a redfish moving in search of more food
will see the motion at the surface and investigate. And it’s not
uncommon for a bottom grubbing redfish to scare up small prey that make a
break for it. So that same redfish that was so engrossed in digging for
a mud crab that it never saw the perfectly presented fly might see the
surface commotion of a gurgler, and mistake the fly for an escaping
prey. Many times I’ve watched small shrimp and fish squirt from the
water as they try to avoid a feeding redfish. And I’ve seen redfish that
were lackadaisically tailing suddenly erupt at the surface to grab
these would-be escapees.
Third, in many of the flats where anglers fish for
tailing redfish, the seagrass is thick and tall. The densely packed
seagrass blades can act as a barrier, preventing a tailing fish from
seeing a fly only inches away. And at a very low tide, the upper
portions of the grass blades lay across the surface, and the tips reach
to the surface at a medium tide, making it tough to get a sinking fly to
the bottom. A weedless gurgler helps get around both of these
challenges and puts the fly in an area where it can be seen by a
A gurgler is my surface fly of choice because it is
light, so is easy to cast long distances and lands on the water lightly.
Both characteristics are necessary when fishing to tailing redfish on
shallow flats. The gurgler is also versatile in how it can be fished —
loudly, so it makes a lot of commotion, or softly, so it barely ripples
the surface. So it’s easy to imitate different prey — soft and slow for
shrimp and loud and fast for the finger mullet that can be abundant in
fall — and the changing moods of redfish.
I first started using gurglers for tailing redfish, in
part, out of frustration. My favorite flats for tailing redfish are
covered with lush turtle grass and shoal grass. It can be wearing to
make good cast after good cast to a tailing fish and get no response
because it never saw the fly among the many grass blades. My strategy
when fishing for tailing reds is pretty simple — get the fly into the
fish’s sight zone and make sure the fish sees it. I know the fish has
seen the fly when it changes it’s behavior — it either reacts
positively, by following or taking the fly, or negatively, by avoiding
the fly or suddenly swimming in the other direction. Often, redfish
feeding in thick seagrass don’t react at all, so likely never see the
An unweighted fly that sinks very slowly is a good choice
in these situations because the fly spends more time in mid-water,
where it is more visible, while a weighted fly that sinks straight to
the bottom is quickly lost. However, even an unweighted fly that hovers
mid-water can remain unseen by a redfish feeding in thick grass. If I
can get the gurgler in front of the redfish, it’s a good bet the fish
will see the fly.
Another good situation for using a gurgler is when there
are a lot of redfish around, but they aren’t staying put long enough to
stalk and cast to any particular fish. The first time I tried a gurgler
in frustration was on a day when the flat was full of tailing fish.
Well, fish were tailing everywhere but where I was. Fish weren’t feeding
very long in a spot, but instead would tail for a few seconds and then
move on. There was really no point in stalking, so I drifted across the
flat blind-casting a gurgler. This can be an especially successful
strategy in late summer and fall when juvenile mullet (aka finger mullet) are often common on the flats, and a favorite food of the larger redfish that invade the flats in fall.
My favorite situation for using a gurgler is casting to
redfish that are pushing a bow-wake as they slowly cruise from one
eating spot to the next. I’ll often see these fish tail some distance
away, then right themselves and slowly head off in search of more prey.
Sometimes, the dorsal and upper tail fins of these fish will be out of
the water. These fish move slowly and deliberately enough that I can
guess their course and put myself in the best location to make a good
cast. I like to lead these fish by a healthy enough distance that they
can’t see the fly or fly line in the air, and let the fly sit until they
are within a few feet before beginning my retrieve.
When casting a gurgler to a tailing or cruising redfish, I
use a leader of 10 - 12 feet or more, with 12 lb. fluorocarbon tippet.
For tailers I use a long leader because I try to cast past the fish, to
the side the head is pointing. I then bring the fly back over the fish.
If the fish continues to tail, I’ll make the fly pop to get the fish’s
attention. If the fish is not tailing, I continue retrieving the fly in
short strips. Using this strategy, a shorter leader would cause the fly
line to land over the fish, likely spooking the fish and ruining my
chances for a hookup.
For blind-casting, a longer leader means I have less
chance of accidentally lining a fish with the fly line during a cast.
The longer leader also provides better separation between the fly line
and fly, so there is less chance a redfish coming to check out the fly’s
commotion will intersect the fly line.
Cruisers are swimming near the surface, with their cone
of vision pointing forward and upward. A longer leader helps me keep the
fly line out of this cone of vision during the cast. I use 12 lb rather
than 20 lb leader because heavier leader tends to pull the gurgler
down. And I find that fluorocarbon tippets make a difference because the
waters I fish tend to be clear.
Long casts are usually best, because even redfish that
attack the gurgler aggressively tend to miss the fly a few times before
they get it in their mouth. With their mouth on the underside of their
snout, redfish have to either raise their head out of the water so they
come down on the fly, or turn sideways to get a better angle on the fly
from below. When a redfish brings its head out of the water to get over
the fly, its eyes come above the water surface, so they can spot an
angler that is close by. And less aggressive redfish will often follow a
gurgler for an excruciatingly long distance, so a long cast gives the
fish more time to decide to take the fly.
When a redfish strikes a gurgler, it is usually an
exciting show — often an explosion on the fly. The temptation is to rear
back and set the hook. In most circumstances, this will result in a
fish circling in confusion as it searches for the fly that you just
launched past your ear. Remember, they’ll often miss the fly the first
time. It takes some control, but keep stripping the fly in the same
manner that induced the redfish into attacking it, and strip strike when
you feel tension on the line. Don’t lift the rod until you’re sure the
fish is hooked. Easier said than done.
Back to the fishing.
Getting in range of a tailing redfish was the biggest
challenge. For a while, it seemed that every fish we saw would tail
aggressively until we were just into casting range, and then suddenly
disappear, only to reappear a few minutes later just a little farther
away: a frustrating pattern that redfish seem to follow frequently.
Doug got decent casts to a couple fish, one of which
ignored the fly as it moved off to another spot, and a second that
looked at the fly and suddenly bolted when Doug stripped the fly ever so
slightly. The eruption caused by the second fish was entertainment in
Doug made a couple casts that had been ignored by a third
tailer, as the fish alternately tailed and moved, tailed and moved.
When the fish had not shown itself for a minute or so, I began to scan
the flat for more action. Then Doug let out a "WHOOP." I turned
to see his rod doubled over and fly line jumping off the deck and
through the guides in pursuit of a surprised redfish. A few minutes
later, we had the fish boatside, and Doug had his first redfish on a
gurgler. We were able to get one more fish before the tailing action
died down, the sun dipped low, and we made the run back to the boat
Would a standard fly pattern for tailing redfish have
worked? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t have been as exciting or visual a take.
And we didn’t have to worry about making the perfect cast and keeping
the fly snag-free.
The gurgler is an easy fly to tie, and is surprisingly durable for being made mostly of soft foam.
I use pliable closed cell foam in either tan or white.
Tan is good for imitating shrimp and some of the small fish that live on
the flats. White is good for imitating finger mullet and is easier to
see at dusk, one of my favorite times for fishing for tailing redfish. I
use a long shank hook — either for tying a longer, shrimp-like body, or
to tie a keel-hook style weedless version. For the standard,
long-bodied pattern, I tie in a mono weedguard just behind the hook eye.
For the keel-hook style fly, I use pliers to bend the hook backwards,
the bend at approximately 2/3 the length of the shank behind the hook
eye. The foam body is then tied on the same side of the hook as the hook
bend. This fly will ride with the hook point up, making it weedless. I
originally began tying the keel-style fly because so many redfish were
striking the fly without getting hooked. The theory is that since
redfish so often come down on the fly from above, an upward pointing
hook should have a better hookup ratio. The jury is still out on this,
but the hookup rate is certainly no less than the standard pattern. This
clearly means that more research is needed.
Hook: Mustad 34011, size 4
Tail: bucktail, color to match foam body
Body: closed cell foam, double the
length of the hook shank – half tied to the shank, half folded over
(from hook bend to eye) as the back
Legs: hackle colored to match the foam body, attached at the rear of the hook bend and palmered to the hook eye
Thread: Danville flat waxed nylon, color to match the foam body
Weedguard: 40 lb mono
• Cageless reel frame with exposed palming rim
Check out the Red Truck Diesel Fly Reels.
Archille Valenciennes, 1847
- Zane Grey, “Byme-by-tarpon.”
The tarpon is a giant among saltwater game fish.
Although it is not the largest game fish a fly angler can catch and
release, it’s known as “the silver king” throughout the warm lagoons,
estuaries, thick mangrove swamps, and saltwater flats of southeastern
North America, the Caribbean, and northeastern coast of South America.
The tarpon: saltwater royalty. Adult tarpon can easily reach 6 or 7 feet
in length and can weigh well over 150 pounds. The Megalops atlanticus is astonishingly powerful
and is famous among anglers as the mythological silver beast that can
walk on water. Tarpon, once hooked, are known for jumping and thrashing
about, sometimes longer than 3 hours, their tails skitting across the
The silver king, although caught by indigenous tribes in the Florida
Keys probably as early as the 1700s, was officially discovered and named
in 1847 by the French parasitologist Archille Valenciennes during his
work with Georges Cuvier on their Natural History of Fish, a whopping
22-volume work published between 1828 and 1848. Valenciennes placed the
tarpon within the genus Megalops (Greek for “large eye”) because of its
prominent and daunting black eyes. Since the turn of the century, a
great body of literature, historical and otherwise, has been developed
on the subject of tarpon. Fly fishing for tarpon is now a wildly popular
sporting pursuit among anglers from Georgia to the Florida Keys, and
tarpon are also highly sought after throughout the coastal waters of the
Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Recently, giant tarpon in the 300
pound class have been caught on fly tackle off the southwestern coast of
Africa. Tarpon have been so popular in the Gulf region of the United
States that in 1955, by act no. 564 of the Alabama state legislature,
the “fighting tarpon” became the state’s official saltwater fish.
Rolling and dashing through skinny saltwater flats and estuaries tarpon
inhabit a range of 49°N - 44°s, 99°w - 14°e, but they have been recorded
as far north as Nova Scotia, along the Atlantic coast of Southern
France, and as far south as Argentina. The tarpon uses the thin water of
the saltwater flats to feed on smaller baitfish and crustaceans. The
deeper water of the open ocean is the tarpon’s spawning grounds. The
tarpon does have a counterpart native to the Pacific Ocean (Megalops cyprinoids or Indo-Pacific tarpon), but this tarpon is a much smaller fish and not prized among fly anglers.
Tarpon are an ancient fish that has survived 125 million years of
evolutionary tumult. One of the oldest living species in the ocean, the
tarpon carries an almost otherworldly
presence. Just catching a glimpse of a rolling school of giant tarpon
is an intimidating sight even to the most confident fly angler. The
tarpon’s huge bucket-like jaws and large black eyes compliment its
thick, powerful body. When tarpon clear the top water during a jump,
their massive set of mirror-polished scales clatter and clack audibly
with the tremendous force of the maneuver. The tarpon’s fins are a dark,
steely gray and the tail is deeply forked, providing the silver king
with a tremendous amount of underwater leverage and speed.
According to historical accounts dating from the late 1800s, anglers
have been able to catch tarpon on artificial flies with reasonable
success. Since then fly fishing for tarpon has steadily increased in
popularity owing to rousing tales of madly fighting fish from such
popular authors as Zane Grey and, more recently, Lefty Kreh. The rising
interest in saltwater fly fishing, coupled with tarpon-specific articles
and books by other fly fishing greats have fueled the rush to master
tarpon on a fly. Today, there is now an extensive network of guides fly
fishing exclusively for tarpon from Florida to South America, and a
number of tournaments and other competitions celebrating fly fishing for
tarpon have also cropped up in recent years.
Fly anglers should understand that there are three classes or sizes of
tarpon: baby tarpon, midsize tarpon, and giant tarpon. Baby tarpon range
from 5 to 40 pounds, midsize tarpon fill the 50 to 80 pound class, and
the giant tarpon weighs in at an astonishing 100+ pounds. Anglers
looking to chase tarpon on the fly should think seriously about which
weight class they are after before they gear up and head on that tarpon
trip of a lifetime. Smaller tarpon are often found cruising on the edges
of saltwater flats and in brackish inland estuaries and mangrove
swamps. Larger tarpon are usually found cruising and rolling in
Baby and midsize tarpon offer quite a fighting challenge on an 8 weight
or 9 weight outfit. Giant tarpon, however, require much heavier 11 or 12
weight outfits. Fast action fly fishing rods are popular among tarpon
anglers for their ability to assist the caster in creating the long,
accurate casts (often into heavy wind) required when sight casting for
tarpon. It’s important to have top-notch fishing tools when stalking
tarpon of any size in the saltwater flats; an angler, even on the best
day, may only get 3 or 4 good casts at fish!
Loop Cross S1
Loop Cross S1 12 Weight Tarpon Rod
As with any saltwater flats game fish, spotting a tarpon can be a challenge. Sunny conditions on saltwater
flats can produce some of the world’s most visually taxing conditions,
and the sheer brightness of the glare on the water can be overwhelming. A
good pair of polarized sunglasses with copper photochromatic lenses can
– on some days – be considered the saltwater fly angler’s most useful
fishing tool. Yellow photochromatic lenses can be useful for morning
light conditions, so if you plan to fish from dawn until dusk, consider
two pairs of shades. (Experience in spotting tarpon, or a guide perched
atop the polling platform of a specialized flats skiff will also help!)
All Day Polarized Sunglasses
Low Light Polarized Sunglasses
There is a recent movement among saltwater fly anglers who chase tarpon
to “dredge” deeper channels and estuaries for tarpon of all size
classes. This dredging method is anchored in common blind casting
techniques familiar to striped bass fly anglers of the North American
coasts. Dredging for tarpon with a sinking line can be productive, but
remains a relatively new and unproven tactic in the quiver of tarpon fly
Deep Water Fly Line
Perhaps the easiest way to recognize the location of a single, pair, or
school of tarpon is by the characteristic “rolling” action the species
exhibits. The tarpon is equipped with a swim bladder, allowing them to
survive and thrive in brackish swamps and saltwater flats as well as the
open ocean. Tarpon will periodically appear at the water’s surface to
take in a breath, filling their swim bladder before rolling back into
the salty depths. This process, although graceful, can cause quite a
stir. Fly anglers should be on the lookout for large boils and bubbles
in the top water accompanied by a silvery flash – this is likely a
Large tarpon in saltwater flats will aggressively chase and take a
well-presented fly, adding to the species’ storied place in saltwater
game fish mythology. Tarpon will respond energetically to a fly moving
directly away from them. Creating this effect can be achieved with a
hook cast or a reach cast, both practiced techniques used by freshwater
fly anglers. Saltwater flats can offer a fly angler some of the most
challenging casting conditions on earth. Long, tuned, and accurate casts
of 60 to 70 feet are often necessary. Once the fly is properly
presented to the tarpon, the stripping game is on. Anglers will invariably
disagree on which are the most effective methods for retrieving the fly
when fly fishing for tarpon in the saltwater flats. In one conversation
on the subject, one might hear “fast, slow, smooth, jerky” … often in
the same breath. Never fear, a local guide will often know just how to
play and move a fly to produce results; listen to what they have to say!
Be patient though, as tarpon have been known to chase a well-presented
and retrieved fly all the way to the boat before striking!
Brackish inland estuaries and mangrove swamps offer saltwater fly
anglers amazing chances to cast to, catch and release baby tarpon. Some
canal systems – especially in southwest Florida – provide excellent
shelter for juvenile tarpon, even through the slow winter months. When
fishing these environments, work streamers as close to the mangrove
roots as possible. As the tide goes out, more and more of these mangrove
roots will be exposed, leaving behind an excellent feeding shelf for
baby tarpon. Remember: well-presented flies will move silver kings!
Simply hooking a tarpon can be an operatic experience in itself. The
tarpon’s mouth is extremely hard and has been likened to tough
construction-grade concrete. Subsequently, successful hook sets are
almost more challenging than actually getting an aggressive tarpon to
take a well-presented fly. Practice in firm and confident strip setting
techniques is extremely important when fly fishing for tarpon. When a
tarpon finally chomps the fly, and the hook is set, the fish will put on
an impressive aerial acrobatics show. Seasoned tarpon anglers, when
trading notes on a day’s work, will often proudly include the number of
“fish jumped” as well as the number of fish landed. Tarpon are
consistently observed jumping 3 or 4 feet above the water after a hook
up. During this aggressive jumping and thrashing, fly, fly line, and
tippet are at their most vulnerable point. It is extremely important to
protect rigging and tackle by keeping the rod tip as low as possible
during the initial few jumps. This process is called “bowing” to the
fish, and it’s no secret, bowing to the silver king will minimize the
chance of losing a tarpon to a snapped line or leader.
Tarpon fly anglers presented with the challenge of keeping a
tail-walking silver king on the line have developed a number of rigging
techniques designed to stand up
to what many think are the toughest and wildest fighters in the salt.
Taking a nod from the rigging standards employed by bill fish and tuna
anglers, anglers in hot pursuit of monster tarpon have experimented with
extremely complex, heavy rigs. The standard 9 foot tarpon leader,
however, consists of a heavy 60 pound butt section, a section of 16 to
20 class tippet, and finally a short, one foot section of 60 to 100
pound mono shock tippet. This rig is the standard for many medium to
large tarpon, but there are other options for the really large fish. Be
sure to ask your local fly shop about the leaders you should have ready
to go before you board the plane for your chosen tropical tarpon
destination. Keeping this general rigging rule for tarpon fishing can be
helpful: When traveling to far-flung destinations, bring your rigging
with you. When traveling to the Florida Keys, a good guide should
provide all you need to jump and land the tarpon of your dreams.
Do not head to the saltwater flats in search of tarpon armed with a
sub-standard fly reel. The stress a tarpon can place on even the
strongest rods, lines, and leaders is truly impressive – to say the very
least. The fly reel is the mechanical link for your connection to the
fish and if it goes south, so does your time on the water. Be sure to
find a reel with an iron-clad drag system and a large arbor for easy
line pick up. The reel should also be large enough to store between 200
and 250 yards of backing; if you find yourself connected to a rolling
fish, you’ll use it.
Ultimate Tarpon Fly Reel
When at home along the saltwater flats, tarpon will hunt and feed mostly
on baitfish. When migrating and spawning, tarpon are more likely to
feed instinctively on smaller crustaceans. Regardless of the situation,
however, tarpon will aggressively chase a well-presented fly. Large
streamer patterns are the most effective flies for tarpon of all sizes,
but some smaller crab and shrimp patterns will yield good results on
days when the silver kings are on the move or in a more selective mood.
A favorite classic tarpon fly from Florida to the Bahamas is the
Cockroach, developed by saltwater fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh. Other
proven tarpon flies include Lefty’s Deceiver, the Clouser Minnow, and
the Sea Habit. When tarpon are migrating or on the spawn, the Tarpon
Shrimp, Tarpon Crab, and the Seaducer are another trio of useful tarpon
flies to have on hand, and the Campeche Special is a brilliant fly for
baby tarpon in the mangroves of Mexico’s Gulf Coast.
Tarpon offer fly anglers a unique challenge; discovering the proper
blend of power, strategy, concentration, and finesse is crucial when on
the flats or in the brackish water in search of rolling tarpon. The
majesty of the tarpon survives in a heap of literature from Grey to
Kreh, and with good reason. Holding court, the tarpon truly is the
silver king of the flats, offering excited anglers throughout the
tropics the sport, the drama, the epic struggle, and the joy of the
great kings of mythology.
While conventional fishing with my father on the banks of the San Joaquin each summer, I watched casters of those long rods paint the water with dry flies. These fly fishermen were free to search every nook of the stream for the native, colorful, and wily trout. I feared this type of angling freedom was not available to me. Luckily, driven by the legacy of my Grandfather and images of these "free" fly fishers, I challenged my apprehension and picked up a fly rod.
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Components of a Fly RodRod BlankThe
fly rod blank is simply the physical rod itself. Each rod style has a
unique shape or "taper" throughout its length designed to deliver a
specific fly line weight or fly line style as efficiently as possible.GripFly
rod grips are a key component to the fly rod itself. Grips are
generally made of Portuguese cork and are shaved and sanded on a lathe
to create an ergonomic handle. A series of classic grip styles are
available; Half Wells grips are popular in many mid-weight trout rods,
Full Wells grips give steelheaders and saltwater anglers a bit more
control when casting heavier rods, Cigar grips are extremely popular on
the lightest fly rods, Spey grips are long and tapered allowing an
angler to easily wield a two-handed rod of 13 feet or more in length.GuideGuides
are small coils of light, but durable metal that hold the fly line
close to the rod, allowing an angler to actually use the fly line and
fly rod in tandem to successfully complete a fly cast. These coils are
sometimes referred to as "eyes" and the first guide or guides near the
butt end or handle of the rod blank are called the "stripping guides"
and the rest of the guides are called "snake guides." The final
loop-shaped guide at the tip of the rod blank is simply called the "tip
top." Fly rod guides have "feet" and are secured to the rod blank with
tight wraps of thread about the feet. Generally, guides have two feet,
but single-footed guides are becoming more popular with rod designers as
weight considerations become more important for a modern rod's
performance and marketing story. Recoil snake guides -- guides that
retain their original shape even after being bent -- are also finding
their way to mainstream fly rod design for their enhanced durability and
performance.Reel seatThe reel seat is
metal component that holds a fly reel to the rod. Reel seats can be as
simple as two aluminum rings (called cork-and-ring reel seat), or can be
beautifully machined combinations of aluminum and wood or composite
material for larger, heavier reels. The reel seat is a relatively new
addition to fly rod design as anglers used to hold the fly reel in their
free hand as recent as the mid 1800s.Fly Rod ConstructionThe
best fly rods, whether bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite are put together
with the utmost care. Construction is the ultimate determinant of how
efficiently the rod transfers the energy of the caster through the rod
to fly line and eventually to the fly. A poorly constructed rod is not
efficient and will not directly transmit the energy generated by the
caster to the fly line, often resulting in a "wobble" at the end of the
casting stroke. This wobbling transfers to the line resulting in a
weaker, less accurate cast. The better and tighter the construction of a
rod, the more efficient it is, and the more accurate and powerful it
will be at all distances.In modern graphite rods, the quality of
construction is directly related to the type of source graphite used to
make it. As a general rule, the higher the modulus (a term indicating
how much graphite is present in the rod), the better the graphite.
Quality rod makers are continually searching and redefining the right
amount and type of graphite to make their rods even better. Translation:
just the right amount of modulus graphite will make a higher
performance rod. Rods that use modern aerospace grades of graphite will
transfer the most energy with the greatest degree of ease and also allow
for the best accuracy.Optimize a fly rod to perform its bestFly Rods and Line WeightGenerally
speaking, the weight of a fly line is proportionate to the size of the
species you're pursuing. If you are fishing for smaller fish with
smaller flies, a lighter line weight will allow you to present the fly
more accurately. However, if you are going after big fish, a heavier
line is important for turning over larger flies in the wind and casting
greater distances.Action and FlexFly rods
are characterized by where the rod flexes. A "fast action" fly rod
flexes near the tip, and a "slow action" rod flexes near the butt of the
rod with "medium action" somewhere in between. Action determines the
tempo of your casting stroke. It also determines the ability of your rod
to generate line speed, a term for how quickly the loop travels away
from the rod tip. As it takes less effort to cast farther and more
accurately with a fast action rod, beginning casters are often best fit
with this action.LengthThe type of water
and fishing determines appropriate fly rod length. Smaller streams mean
tighter casting situations, and a shorter rod is much more manageable.
Big Western rivers and salt water require a longer rod for increased
distance and power. While, anglers fishing for steelhead and salmon
commonly prefer longer rods for large mends and roll casts. Generally
speaking, a nine-foot rod is ideal for the vast majority of fishing
situations. If you are new to the sport, this length will perform
effectively in a variety of waters and will allow for a solid
development of your fly cast.
Contact Leland Upgrade at (415) 781-FISH via email email@example.com
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