Tackle Guide 2016: Tarpon

Photograph by the author
By Mark B. Hatter

Winter has officially set in. A falling barometer, a fresh blow from the northwest and a sagging thermometer have driven me to my man cave to tie flies and watch fish porn, and to dream about the new gear I think I need. And, indeed, the list of products is long.

That’s because modern design and fabrication continually re-engineer the tarpon angler’s arsenal with next-gen innovation. My 12-weights serve me well. Yet, newer rods are even lighter and stronger. Would a new stick provide an advantage when I sink a 3/0 hook into a triple-digit silver king? My answer to this question renders me with a want. So, figuring I’m not the only one out there jonesing over the wants versus needs, here’s one ’poon angler’s glance at the new gear I’d like to fish.

RodsReelsLinesRain GearGlassesClothingLidsEssentialsFliesGear Bags and Fly BoxesThe RideDrinks
Single-piece rods are once again in vogue with tarpon guides. The G. Loomis NRX PRO-1 is a one-piece 8’10” 12-weight ($815) that uses fiber blend technology for a nice combination of strength and power. I’ve fished the Crosscurrent, the precursor to the NRX PRO-1, and I love it, except for the fact that I need a breakdown rod for travel. Loomis says the NRX Pro-1 is an improvement in stiffness and lifting power; if I could get away with a single-piece rod, I’d own it. www.gloomis.com

Hardy’s Zephrus SWS in the 8’10” 12-weight ($749) uses Sintrix 440 technology and offers plenty of power. Again, the one-piece model proves limiting to those who fly places for their tarpon. But if you’re just sliding this thing into a Titan Rod Vault, or if you can leave it on the boat, you’ll enjoy the fluid action. www.hardyfishing.com

Single-piece rods are great, no doubt, but packing a 9-plus-foot fly rod onto a plane ain’t gonna happen. Want another option in a great 4-piece travel rod? Check out the Thomas & Thomas Solar 912-4 ($915). T&T’s Solar can throw an entire line, but the designers reined back the power so that it’s most effective between 45′ and 65′, the optimal zone for sight-fishing tarpon.

When Flip Pallot started hosting the Walker’s Cay Chronicles, I immediately wanted that ported gold fly reel he used to subdue magnificent silver kings. It was made by Canadian manufacturer Islander, and I got hold of one shortly after. Today, the Islander LX 4.5 ($825) is still my personal tarpon reel. The heavily ported, large-arbor design is bulletproof. The graphite-impregnated cork drag surface is buttery smooth, and I like the no-tool takedown and easy right/left conversion. www.islander.com/reels

A 35-year-long collaboration between reel manufacturer Ted Juracsik and angler Billy Pate resulted in 225 world records being set using Tibor fly reels. Enough said. The Tibor Gulfstream ($735) is a classically designed large-arbor reel with a smooth cork drag that several of my buddies use. And if you like to turn heads you can do it with the Gulfstream—Tibor offers six different anodized color finishes and custom engraving. Want to trick it out even more? Consider Tibor’s Gorilla Handle ($12.95) or SpeedHandle ($44.55) as upgrades. www.tiborreel.com

If you are looking for a “new school” sealed-drag reel, consider the Nautilus X2 Silver King ($685). David Olsen, manager of the Miami Fly Shop, told me that this reel is a favorite of Florida panhandle guides because anglers can use heavy tippet and lock down the drag. This allows tarpon to be subdued quickly, a benefit for both fish and angler. Olson added, “This reel is well built and can handle lock-down or light, class-tippet drag settings with ease.” www.nautilusreels.com

If I didn’t already own a quiver of gold Islanders, I’d surely own several of Abel’s 11/12N Super Series ($920) cork-drag reels. And I’d get them in their classic polished black-anodized finish and I’d customize them with a sealed drag. If you’re into further customization, you could get one of these in a variety of anodized schemes, some of which would surely have pleased the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. www.abelreels.com

Don’t ask me about proprietary blends and advanced co-polymers in fly lines—I’m not an engineer. But I can tell you that I like low stretch, near-zero memory, and a clear stealth coating on a line that floats high and is plenty stiff and durable. That’s what I get from Cortland’s WF12/F Liquid Crystal ($79.95). www.cortlandline.com

When the ’poons are deep, I deploy Cortland’s WF12/I Tropic Plus Intermediate-Smoke ($75) to find the target. Built on a monofilament core with a stiff coating, this line shoots like a dream and sinks just below the surface with virtually no memory. I used this line, exclusively, on a recent trip to Costa Rica, fishing for tarpon around river mouths, and it worked flawlessly. www.cortlandline.com

On occasion, when the full floater or the full intermediate line is not the ticket, I’ll use a floating line with an intermediate sink tip, like RIO’s WF12F/I Tarpon QuickShooter ($89.95). Although I have not tried this line in a 12-weight, I like the 10-weight for Louisiana redfish. The front taper is short and powerful and easily turns over heavier redfish flies, even into the wind; I expect that performance is similar with the 12-weight line. www.rioproducts.com

We don’t often think about cool weather in the tropics, but it happens. And when it does a lightweight, breathable, waterproof shell keeps you dry in a downpour and mostly warm on the water. In addition, it takes the chill off when running at 35 knots at 6:30 AM when you’re trying to catch the early bite or beat someone else to the prime grounds. Simms’ Hyalite Rain Shell ($149) is an excellent choice for these conditions. www.simmsfishing.com

Even the best breathable rain jacket can become clammy in a really wet climate. So, if you are one to sweat easily and need a bit more in circulation, take a look at Trueflies Safety Harbor Raincoat ($199). It’s breathable and waterproof, and features zippered underarm cooling vents. www.trueflies.com

Having the correct polarizing eyewear is critical when sight-fishing. Just ask Keys guide Capt. Justin Rae, who won the 2013 Del Brown Permit Tournament under cloudy conditions wearing Smith Optics’ Low Light Ignitor sunglasses ($165). These shades use thin and light lenses with anti-reflective coatings and polarization. They are the go-to glasses when the light is low. (One drawback: They’re not available with prescription lenses.) www.smithoptics.com

So, since I wear prescription lenses, my shades are the Costa Fathom ($179 for non-prescription polycarbonate lenses), which I get through my optometrist. I like the wrap-around design and green mirror finish over an amber lens. This model is also offered in a glass lens ($239 for non-prescription). www.costadelmar.com

The Patagonia Long Sleeve Sun Stretch Shirt ($99), made of a poly-nylon combination, is specifically designed for hot-weather fishing. Plaid is “in” on the water, but this shirt also looks great while beating around the dock or the bar after your angling day. If you want a pullover sun cover with added protection, check out Patagonia’s Sunshade Technical Hoody ($89). To complement the hip Sun Stretch Shirt or the hoody, add a pair of Patagonia’s Sandy Cay Pants ($79). www.patagonia.com

I’m torn. Historically, I’ve been a button-up angler, but the past few years I’ve gravitated to synthetic long-sleeve pullovers. In fact, my current wardrobe is loaded with Simms Solarflex Crewneck Print Shirts ($59.95). Made from 100-percent polyester, they fit me like a glove and don’t stick to my skin when I sweat. If you like pullovers but want more sun protection, take a look at the Simms Waypoints Hoody ($64.95). I complement my Solarflex shirts with Simms’ Superlight Zip-Off Pant ($79.95). www.simmsfishing.com

Although I have not yet tried a synthetic pullover with a built-in hood, I like the style and colors of the 12wt. OCEANwt. Hoodie ($64). It also has a cool logo that tarpon addicts will appreciate. Check it out at www.12wt.com

I’m not the kind of guy who appreciates the new/old-school, trucker-style ball caps, like the Simms Tarpon Trucker ($19.95), which are so popular with younger guides these days. The reason: My wife doesn’t think they look good on my small head! But, this just might be the look you want on yours. www.simmsfishing.com

If you are into the trucker-cap look, you will definitely want to check out Howler Brothers’ Silver King Mesh-Back ($27) in light blue denim. It has a kick-ass logo spelling out the company name in the shape of a tarpon. Way cool . . . if you can pull off the look. www.howlerbros.com

Even though I’ll never be able to wear a visor as well as Andy Mill, my headgear choice is the Pelagic Performance Visor ($22), in either black-and-gray camo or plain black. www.pelagicgear.com

Want to really protect your face and ears from the sun? Invest in full head and hand protection. Buffs ($25) and generic knock-offs are ubiquitous at fly shops and they are now available in every pattern imaginable. My favorite is the mahi-mahi design. www.buffusa.com. To protect my hands, I’ve turned to the Simms Solarflex Sunglove ($29.95). www.simmsfishing.com
In my circle of angling friends, none of us has bought flies for a very long time—we tie our own the way we want them. That said, there is one key ingredient we all use to build the proper ’poon fly: Enrico Puglisi EP Fibers ($6.95). Purple, black, yellow, chartreuse, white and olive are all excellent color choices for tying tarpon streamers. www.epflies.com
Even a minimalist tarpon fisherman should pack spare lines, tippet material, extra flies, sunscreen, etc. My choice for hauling stuff is Fishpond’s Westwater Boat Bag ($229). I like the firm sides and box shape, and it fits well in my skiff’s dry-storage compartment. www.fishpond.com

If you are a bit more economy minded, but still want a firm-sided gear bag to haul your stuff, check out William Joseph’s Tsunami ($89.95). www.williamjoseph.net

I try to tie IGFA leaders on all of my tarpon flies in advance of a trip, but that is a pain in the butt. So, most of the time, my flies go into my Montana Fly Company Boat Box ($74.99) and I simply rig leaders on the water. This box is plenty big even for my largest tarpon streamers. www.montanafly.com

I’ve got a Ford F-150 truck with barely 50K miles on it, and a first-generation East Cape Vantage skiff parked in my garage. However, if I hit the lottery, I’d have no problem dropping some big coin on a new rig. I want the new aluminum-alloy-framed Ford F-150 Platinum 4X4 with the EcoBoost V6 turbo engine (starting at $50K). www.ford.com

I never thought East Cape Skiffs could improve on their Vantage model until I rode in Captain Greg Dini’s VHP hull. Immediately I wanted to trade in my skiff for an upgrade. The VHP hull, pushed by a 140hp Suzuki 4-stroke, was easily 15mph faster than my skiff at a lower cruise rpm: read faster and more economical! What are the six winning numbers? www.eastcape.com


Whether used for end-of-day celebration, or condolences for a lost fish, no tarpon trip is complete without an ice-cold cerveza. Kalik, “beer of the Bahamas,” is a perennial favorite and edges out the more popular Corona when I’m buying. Of course, Corona does well in a pinch.

Mark Hatter
About Mark Hatter 2 Articles
Mark Hatter writes for Fly Rod & Reel magazine.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.