In Pursuit of Tarpon On-Fly

In Pursuit of Tarpon on-Fly, Gabon, Africa

By Christiaan Pretorius





It’s not often I get nervous fighting a fish, but rather try to stay cool, calm and collected and try to control the fight as much as I can. With time spent on the water, you start to learn to keep your eyes on everything that might go wrong, and then apply the necessary amount of pressure to try get that fish to hand as quickly as possible to allow for a strong release. That is our responsibility as “conservationists,” right?

I recently had a trip to Gabon, a small country on the west coast of Africa where the target specie was tarpon. Urban legend has it that these tarpon often reach that magical 300-pound mark.

Like any good build up to any cool fishing story, our story started of pretty slow. We had four days of miserable weather and tides. Nothing played in our favor, and I was beginning to doubt that I would get my shot at a big fish, but it’s impossible for me to stop casting knowing it might happen on my next cast.

Day five, the clouds moved off and we had a beautiful bluebird day, glassy water and very accommodating tides. We had high hopes.

We decided to start at an area where the guides have seen big fish laid up around the high tide in past seasons. Like most tarpon anglers, I thought this has to be one of the coolest ways to target a big fish with a fly rod. It was pretty clear early on that the fish was around, seeing a couple of small males rolling and then seeing a couple of bigger fish in the mix as the tide started to slow down. By this time the air temperature must have been in the mid-30’s Celsius, HOT, but we were on a mission to find a big girl sleeping.

Around noon we finally caught a glimpse of the tip of a tail just clearing the surface every now and then. We kicked the trolling motor into high speed and started making our way over. At this time, it was hard to distinguish where the water met the horizon. We had hazy, calm conditions, which some say makes tarpon very happy, and so, too, that made me very happy.

We made our way over to what looked like a giant fish, judging by the distance between the tip of the tail and the dorsal fin. Checking my line, my leader and that my rod and ferrules were well secured, I was ready to take the shot when we got in range.

Soon we got into the 100-foot range and my guide Arno cut the trolling motor to a slower speed. We started creeping in hoping to get another glimpse of the fish. Scanning and non-stop concentration from everyone on the boat until finally she showed herself again: 11 o’clock, 60 feet was the call from the platform. I could hardly see anything but started to make the cast. As I was getting more line out, I finally caught another glimpse of some nervous water and knew it had to be the fish.

We decided on a pretty buoyant white fly to keep it visual from our side, connected to an 80-pound leader loaded on a 12-weight Thomas and Thomas, and rigged with a 9600 Mako. To me this is the dream combination when targeting fish of these proportions.

As my fly hit the water I made one slow strip to pick up the slack in my line. As soon as the fly started sliding the fish had a small twitch in her tail and started slowly tracking my fly. The floating line worked great to keep the fish on the surface. From where I was stripping I couldn’t actually see the fish, just the white fly.

At about 40 feet from the boat the white fly disappeared in what looked like a big, black bucket. I set that hook as hard and as quick I could, and the fish screamed off and had some insane jumps while my fly line disappeared at a scary speed.

Slowly tightening the drag on the 9600 eventually slowed down the big girl.  Giving her all I have as far as pulling power we got her close to the skiff fairly quickly. Trying to lift her from deep down I eventually blew up my rod just above the cork. We had to act quickly, and luckily I always carry some paracord in my boat bag, so we used that to tie the rod back together to a point where I could once again apply some needed pressure.

It was an incredible tug of war, and Arno did an amazing job handling this fish next to the boat. Arno struggled to get his hands over the jaw of this fish due to the sheer size but managed to get somewhat of a grip before I took over and had my first close look at this absolute specimen of a tarpon.

To say I was exhausted is an understatement, but the adrenalin gave me enough strength to hold the fish for a couple of quick pictures before reviving and releasing this fish of a lifetime. By Gabon standards this was still an average size fish, measuring in at 71 inches with a 39-inch girth. Guess I will have to try get back sometime to have my shot at a “big” one.

There is nothing better than to have the utmost confidence in your equipment and gear when you target these size fish. The Mako 9600 has seen a lot of pressure over the past couple of years and it has yet to fail me. From monster GT’s, 200+ pound arapiama, 37-pound permit and many more, this is my reel of choice every day of the week when targeting bigger fish where the reel almost becomes your most valuable part of your equipment.

Thank you, Mako.