On a calm, early morning in July, I was leaving the dock with two clients and a solid plan. The bulk of the big migratory tarpon had already passed through and I had been terrorizing a few different schools of baby tarpon with some success. My idea was to try to put one, maybe two if I was lucky, up into the air, and then hit the flats once the sun got higher. We were putting out of the marina when the phone rang. It was one of my good friends with some great news.
“Get over here! The birds are bombing down on some kind of hatch. Hurry!”
We pulled up to the area where he said to go and sure enough there was a load of terns diving up and down, making tiny splashes as they hit the water. As we got closer, the chirps from these happy, hungry birds got louder and louder. This was music to my ears. As we got even closer, the tips of the tails and backs of tarpon were barely cutting through the glass-like water surface. Bingo! These fish were happy and so were we.
I already had small, shrimpy-type flies tied on to ten weight rods. These fish weren’t monsters. They looked like they were in the 30-50 pound range – the perfect size in my opinion.
I pushed us closer as one of the guys began stripping out line. He cast out and stripped back quickly so the line played nicely in the cockpit. I pushed the boat into position, making sure I stayed out of the path of the other boats that were there. First come, first served. I was lucky enough to get the call so I was more than happy to take it slow and approach without disturbing the bite or any other anglers. One boat already had a fish on and the other was actively casting to a school.
We finally got close enough to start winding up a cast. After a few casts that landed short, my guy landed one right on the edge of some fish moving slowly to the left. He slowly and smoothly stripped the fly back and then one fish really seemed to like it. The tarpon ate with a big gulp and then flew into the air. Next thing we knew, fly line was shooting back at us like a plate of noodles.
“Bye bye, fish!” I yelled.
After a couple of high-fives and a little regrouping, we were back on the fish. For the next 45 minutes to an hour it went like this. Solid shots and nice fish jumped. But as quickly as it happened, the sun got a little higher, the birds disappeared and it was over. It was an amazing and fortunate way to start our day.
This time of year, scenarios like this play out on hot, calm mornings and evenings. Falling tides often trigger hatches of shrimp and the tarpon go nuts for it. Other times what’s known as a “guppy hatch” will occur. When the water is slicked out, you can sometimes see small fish just below the surface that look like they are trying to sip air as their tiny mouths dimple the water. The tarpon will glide underneath them and gently gulp them down. Usually there won’t be big explosive bites, it’s much more subtle. Small baitfish patterns in dark colors will work for these fish.
These calm summer mornings are one of the most magical times down here. If you get out there before the sun comes up, you stand a good chance of finding one of these jackpot situations. When you get into a good bite, remember to be courteous of those around you. Also, be very careful with these fish. Fight them hard to land them as quickly as possible. Even better, go light on your tippet and fight them through a few jumps and then break ‘em off. We are seeing fewer and fewer fish here the past couple of years so let’s do what we can to help them live through a fight.
Get up early and go get bit!
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