There are two major factors to consider in a fly rod for Homosassa tarpon: castability and lifting capability. Since anglers can expect to throw often and at distances in excess of 80 feet to reach fish, castability is the key feature. But the rod must also be capable of hauling a big tarpon off the bottom when required, so pick your stick accordingly. An 8 1/2- or 9-foot rod in either a 12- or 13-weight class is ideal.
If you are a reader of this magazine you already know what to look for in a tarpon reel and I won’t belabor the point. Just remember two things: smooth drag with plenty of backing capacity.
Every tarpon guide has his or her personal “go-to” fly and I am no exception. Suffice to say that fly selection is as varied as rod and reel manufacturers. Standard tarpon flies such as the venerable cockroach and Apt I or Apt II patterns will all work at some time or another. I have had good luck with a grizzly-and-purple pattern tied in a standard fashion with small, short wings splayed out on a 3/0 Mustad super-strong 3407 hook. Color can be the difference on a slow day. You should come prepared with a variety of colors and patterns rigged complete in a leader stretcher. If you are getting shots and the fish still aren’t responding, then change colors and/or patterns.
Although many Homosassa tarpon anglers insist on using Mason extra-hard mono for a bite tippet, I find it too stiff for my liking, especially since I use a loop knot on all my tarpon flies. I have had very good luck using 60-pound fluorocarbon as a bite tippet. Fluorocarbon is very flexible, has virtually no memory, sinks, is very abrasion resistant and is still nearly invisible in the water.
Tarpon anglers know that the inside of a tarpon’s maw is like a concrete cinderblock. (I suppose a human palate would be equally armored if we regularly consumed whole blue crabs.) Thus, the task of planting a steel hook into this ballistic plating is more of an art than brute force. A sharp hook is central to achieving this task. With the advent of chemically sharpened hooks, fly fishers can obtain exceptional sharpness and hook-penetrating capability right out of the box. Still, I opt to use hooks that require sharpening before use. There are many arguments regarding the proper method of hook sharpening. I won’t debate the merits of conical vs. triangular, but I will suggest that if it isn’t sharp enough to catch your thumbnail, get the file back out because that is what’s required for tarpon fishing.
Homosassa fly fishers must be prepared to work the entire water column depending on conditions. Therefore, having the capability to switch from floating to sinking lines is very important. For example, a couple of years ago we could not find fish on the shallower flats, but some liberal scouting found pods of tarpon laid up in 18 feet of water over sand depressions several miles farther offshore. Changing from a standard weight-forward floating line to a number IV full-sinking line allowed us to reach the fish and get into the action. A good compromise is a floating line with a sink tip or a slow-sinking intermediate line, but the best of all worlds is a quiver of rods rigged with lines for every contingency.