Giant Homosassa Tarpon
Fly Fisher/Guide/Fly Tier
Capt. Earl Waters, a Florida native, has been chasing and catching the giant Homosassa tarpon for over 25 years. Learn his secrets on hooking up and landing these incredible trophies.
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The world-famous giant tarpon is one of the main attractions in the waters of Homosassa, Florida. Although the Homosassa River is a famous fishing place, the presence of the giant tarpon is only known by a few fly fishers. During the tarpon season, several people on the outside don't even know that a fly fisher has made a world record catch until it's published in the paper since it's a remote and quiet village. But this doesn't make it less enchanting for fly fishers.
Captain Earl Waters, an experienced tarpon addict who has been a lifelong resident in Florida, has been leading his customers to hundreds of tarpon around the 150 lb range. He has worked with several fly fishing celebrities including Steve Rajeff, Al Pflueger, Stu Apte, Lee and Joan Wulf, Mark Sosin, and a lot more. He has set the standards and pioneered the way for catching many species of fish that roam the skinny waters of Homosassa and he continues to pursue the giant tarpon in the Florida Keys, the Caribbean, and South America.
The giant Homosassa tarpon usually migrate into the area around late April or the 1st of May from the open water. "Our tarpon are pretty well known for their coastal movement and not so much the inshore." says Waters. Although you can find baby tarpon in the area, it is usually a very rare occurrence. In areas where the temperature stays consistent, tarpons will enter and stay in the headwaters of the Crystal River as well as in the headwaters of the Homosassa. As the climate gets warmer and warmer, you get more opportunities for pursuing tarpon.
Compared to a Florida Keys tarpon, the Homosassa tarpon are much larger. Earl says that this can be attributed to the fact they come from offshore. The tarpon that are coming from offshore can be very mature fish - they can live to be 50+ years old. When they move to the north and go through the panhandle there, they're not necessarily traveling in really clear water, and so fly fishers don't really understand how big they are because they only see them when they roll. Any tarpon that rolls next to a boat by a guy that's out trout fishing is going to look like a giant. You always hear these stories about the tarpon that came by and took your trout while you were trout fishing, and they're always giants to them because they're targeting such a smaller species.
When fly fishing for Homosassa for tarpon, Earl uses the toad fly design, though he ties it sparser. He says, "We want that fish to see that fly on his level. We don't want it really too far down below him and not too far above him. He will rise for the fly more so than he will go down for the fly." Tarpon will not dive on the fly but they will rise to the surface for a fly. Where there's a lot of boat traffic or movement, they won't always surface. Earl varies his toad fly patterns between a chartreuse, a yellow, and a red with a white body. When a fish is in dark water, the red and white does well and also the chartreuse.
Tides do affect fishing, though they are not as crucial as water temperature. The minimum water temperature required for good fishing is 75 degrees. The fish are more active and come up off the bottom at 75 degrees. As for the tide, the tides bring the fish in and bring the fish out. In other areas later in the season, the fish actually start doing the opposite - they come out on the incoming tide.
If you're planning to schedule a time for fishing for the giant Homosassa tarpon they show up as early as the last week of April. Between the last week of April and May 15th the majority of the fish show up - the mother load is going to be here during that time frame. Most people start showing up by May 1st.
There's a different way to approach tarpon in the Homosassa waters compared to the Florida Keys or Boca Grande. In the Homosassa area, you'll be fly fishing open waters, while at Boca Grande, they're fishing the passes. In Homosassa, you can see them usually farther away because of the clear water, but you maneuver with your trolling motors and not the outboard. You strictly rely on your trolling motor and your push pole. You're doing a lot of work with your push pole to get set up and in place for the fish.
According to Captain Earl, the best way to increase hook up rates with the Homosassa tarpon is through using a good hook set. One of the things a trout fisher will do is he'll strike a tarpon way too soon. When a tarpon comes up and opens his mouth and takes that fly, we strip strike that fly so that the fish has still got the fly in the zone in case he misses it. This is because when a tarpon moves on that fly, he really doesn't see that fly any longer and he's expecting that fly to go backwards and not continue to swim against the thrust that he's sucking through his gills. So when he does get a fly in his mouth and shuts his mouth you'll feel a tap, he's usually on a roll to the side when he does that. And that's when you're gong to be able to come tight on your line and set up with him. That's going to increase your hook setting tremendously when you can do it that way.
To learn more about Earl Waters' guide services visit his website, www.Homosassa-Flyfishing.com.