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Feature Stories 2012

Volume 3, Issue 3, September 2012: Pint Size Poons - Backountry tarpon on fly

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In the FRESH FROM THE SALT,  September 2012, Volume 3, Issue 3 feature story:  Pint Size Poons - Backcountry Tarpon on fly, we once again team up with Saltwater Angler Magazine to bring you another fresh, unique article. This month's issue features local fly fishing bad boy Brad Lowman gracing the cover of SWA Magazine with a juvenile tarpon caught at one of his favorite out-of-the-way spots. These special backcountry haunts provide the perfect food-rich environment and protection from predators that these baby tarpon need to help them reach maturity. And just like their larger and older siblings in the Gulf and in the Bay, they are tricky to catch on the fly but oh so rewarding when hooked up!

This story is featured in my monthly column, Angler Xtras, in the September 2012 issue of Saltwater Angler Magazine, pg. 18.

Joshua W. Broer (pondfisher)



Backcountry Babies - Juvenile tarpon on the fly
By Joshua W. Broer


When you think of catching tarpon, on conventional tackle or fly, images of drag-screaming, high-flying, 100+ lbs. fish usually come to mind. Thoughts of hour-long battles with giant fish sounding deep into Tampa Bay or Boca Grande are the norm. But there is a completely different kind of tarpon fishery that is just as challenging and all the same fun. This is fly fishing for juvenile fish in shallow water, backcountry environments that you would never have given a chance.

These varying waters come in many different depths, sizes, shapes and forms. Some are completely saltwater. Others are brackish, where saltwater from the gulf or bay meet up with a freshwater source. Most times you’re fishing in relatively shallow water, approximately one to five feet. A few examples: retention ponds, storm-water drainage areas, golf course ponds, dead-end bayous, river tributaries, etc. The bottom line - if saltwater can reach it, there’s a fair chance you’ll find baby tarpon there.

Science tells us that juvenile tarpon choose these hideaways for a few reasons. One is safety. These young fish look for places to avoid predators and grow up. Secondly, these bodies of water are often food-rich estuaries where these tarpon can feed endlessly on baitfish and crustaceans. Last, these waters provide warmth during the winter months. Put these characteristics together and you’ve got the perfect setting for these small, adolescent fish to mature.

Once these tarpon have reached a certain size and breeding age, they’ll leave these safe haunts for the sea. But that’s another story. We’re concerned with finding these special places to fish for these small, yet power-packed fish. These miniature silver kings, like their larger siblings, aren’t the easiest fish to get a good hook-set on. A fast, clean strip-set is vital to keeping these fish from coming unbuttoned once you’ve felt a take. Simply raising your rod to set the hook will result in an inevitable jump and spit hook. The jumps are great – spit hooks, not so much.

Local fly fishing pro, Mr. Brad Lowman, recently took me to one of his “secret spots”. I would not, however, wear the proverbial blindfold en route to the spot. This particular spot, like many others, involved no boat. It did though, require a keen sense of direction and navigation through some dense vegetation. I counted 18 red ant bites on my feet and legs at the end of the day. Throw in some mosquitos and no-seeums and we were at the spot.

It didn’t take long for Brad to find a fish while I looked on with my rod in one hand, camera in the other, unable to decide which tool to put down. With the aerial show you’ve come to expect with larger tarpon, this approximately three pound fish rocketed from the water immediately upon hook-up. I didn’t get the jumps on film, but was covered in goosebumps. Alas, the mighty silver king, even as a pup, was still a thrill to watch! A few quick photos and it was back to fishing.

By noon, my mentor had jumped three tarpon to my one – which of course spit the hook. He also landed one small snook as a by-catch. We never switched flies. During the summer, just about all of our game fish are focused on either threadfin hearing (aka: greenbacks) or scaled sardines (aka: whitebait). That includes tarpon. The go-to fly then - the polar fiber minnow. This baitfish pattern is the right choice throughout the hot months. I loaded up on them in the beautifully revamped fly fishing section at Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure. These particular flies are actually tied and supplied to the shop by a Tampa Bay-based fly tier who knows this backcountry baby tarpon game well. If you’re lucky, you just might even get a timeless tip or two – a hint perhaps – that will put it all together.

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