Taming Tarpon

I’ve caught a bunch of fish on fly in the backcountry, but I recently purchased a 12 weight in hopes of taming a tarpon on the long wand this summer. There seem to be a host of theories and recommendations regarding ideal tarpon leader construction and I’m not sure where to start. – Adam McCallister


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While you could purchase knotless tapered leaders for any scenario, they can be expensive. Constructing a tapered leader isn’t difficult, but it is important you do it right. Improper leader construction will result in the failure to transfer energy from the line to the fly, and can also result in wind knots and premature landings, not to mention lost fish. Although there are many proven methods and techniques used to create tapered fly leaders for triple digit tarpon, many involve a confusing mix of difficult knots like the Bimini twist, huffnagle and slim beauty. That’s not to say that these techniques don’t work, because you certainly can’t argue with fly-fishing legends like Andy Mills and Lefty Kreh, but over the years I’ve found great success with big tarpon by keeping leader construction simple and straightforward.

For tarpon fishing I recommend a leader that’s 10- or 11-feet in length from the fly line to the fly. Any longer and it will be a pain to cast, especially in less than ideal conditions. A basic fly leader consists of four components—a butt section, mid section, class tippet and bite tippet. The butt section is closest to the fly line. If your fly line has a welded loop you can make a loop-to-loop connection, but I prefer to keep the connection streamlined with an Albright knot. A nail knot will also suffice. The only real benefit of a loop-to-loop is that you can quickly change your leader.

To transfer energy most efficiently from fly line to fly, start by selecting a stiff fluorocarbon that’s similar in diameter to your fly line. Your butt section should be about half the total length of your leader, so 6 feet of 60 lb. test is a great starting point. Next it’s time to attach the mid section, which should consist of about 24- to 30-inches of 30 lb. fluorocarbon. Depending on your preference you can connect these sections with either a uni-to-uni or four turn blood knot.

Now attach the class tippet of 18 inches of 20 lb. fluorocarbon with either of the aforementioned knots. The last section is your bite tippet, which should consist of 24 inches of 50 lb. test fluorocarbon. Some guides choose to rig with 80 or even 100 lb. fluorocarbon bite tippet, but you will get many more strikes with the lighter line. The final step is to attach your fly with a non-slip loop knot. Good luck and don’t forget to bow to the king! – Captain Steven Tejera – Knot Tight Charters

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