Our spring/summer season is in full swing, and so is the flats fishing! If you’ve ever wanted to catch one of our “rockstar” flats fish (bonefish, permit, and tarpon) from a kayak, summer is a great time to hone your skills. The winds are usually light, making it easier to see fish and easier to cover water in a self-powered craft. The species above are usually around in good numbers, which means more shots at quality fish. I’m often asked about how I rig to catch these three species of fish, so in this article I’ll lay out my three basic spinning rigs I like to take for a morning or afternoon on the flats in my kayak.
First, here a few general thoughts about targeting these fish.
I believe in always rigging for a trophy fish - the “catch of a lifetime". It’s true that most bones in the Lower Keys are 4-7lbs, but I’ve encountered plenty of 10 pounders, and occasionally seen them close to 15lbs. The permit average 15-20lbs, but there are 40+ pounders swimming in these waters! Make sure you are rigged and ready for them!
Rigging for trophies like these requires forethought and preparation. One key element is having quality reels with good drag systems. (Quality doesn’t mean expensive. My reels are all less than $150.) A large bonefish or permit will rip line off your reel at a blistering rate. Sticky drags, or those of poor quality will fail when you need them most, so start with dependable reels and maintain them often to keep them in top condition. Ask yourself, “If I were to hook a seriously oversized fish on this rig, would it handle the strain?”
Another important part of getting a trophy flats fish is line capacity. I load up my reels with 200 yards of line. I actually don’t think I’ll ever need more than about 150yds, but 200 gives me room to trim it back several times due to abrasion and use. And always keep your hooks RAZOR sharp. I keep a file handy in the cockpit and touch up hooks constantly. (You’ll notice I didn’t include tarpon in talking about “trophy” fish, since fighting a 200lb trophy-sized tarpon from a kayak is an almost un-winnable battle. And if you were to somehow stay with a giant tarpon for the several hours it would require to land it, its chances of survival are poor and the chances of a very large shark crashing the party is high. I much prefer my kayak-caught tarpon in the 10-50lb range.)
So good drags, line capacity and sharp hooks are the keys to preparing for your encounter with these fast and powerful fish of the saltwater flats.
The three rigs I rely on the most are as follows:
Bonefish Rig: Rod rated 8-17lb 10lb braided main line 4 feet of 20lb fluorocarbon leader 1/8oz or 1/4 oz buck tail flats jig tipped with shrimp Some anglers go a bit lighter on the rod and/or line, but to be ready for that monster bone, I think this rig is better, while still providing good sport on the smaller fish.
Permit Rig: Same as above but with a 1/0 or 2/0 hook to attach a small live crab If I have a choice when picking crabs, I’ll go with smaller ones on calmer days (less splash), and a little bigger ones on windy days (casts further), and I’ll adjust the hook size accordingly.
Small Tarpon Rig: Rod rated 12-20lb 20lb braided main line 6 feet of 30lb or 40lb fluorocarbon leader 3/0 wide gap worm hook with a 5” soft plastic jerk shad or for deeper water, a size 4/0 1/4oz jig head with a 5” soft paddle tail There are a number of lures that work well with small tarpon. I like the jerk shads because they float and I can keep them in front of and above the tarpon for a long time, giving the fish more time to find and eat it with out getting my lure hung on the bottom.
The last comment I’ll make today about rigging is concerning knots. I use the uni-knot for all of the above, with slight variations. To join the braid to the fluoro, I use 4 wraps on the flouro side, and 8 wraps on the braid side. On the tarpon rig, I’ll double the main line (braid), since it’s casted a lot more and the braid will tend to cut into the leader over time. Doubling the braid helps with this, and gives a little more protection against the violent head shakes of a tarpon. On any knot, take the time to wet it and cinch it down carefully and completely - no exceptions! If it doesn’t look perfect, start over and get it right. Your next cast could be to that “trophy” fish you’ve always dreamed about!
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