Where and how to catch big tarpon on fly

Silver King Lodge Tarpon Fishing

My first (and only-so far) trip in search of catching a silver leviathan on fly was last October, and began with two longish flights firstly from Heathrow to New York, and then on to San Jose in Costa Rica. Flying is usually a bit of a pain and tiring, but has to be endured if you want to fish for exotic species, and a decent night’s sleep in an air-conditioned hotel room left me refreshed and ready for action.

The team assembled and piled into a minibus, which soon transported us to a pristine private airfield where a twin-engine, twenty-four-seater plane was waiting. Temporarily there was some doubt as to whether the half-hour flight would have to be postponed due to torrential rain in the vicinity of the lodge, and sure enough, ‘though we did go, the airstrip landing was in a pretty heavy downpour – all rather ominous! We need not have worried, however, as by the time the transfer boat had delivered us the few yards to Silver King Lodge, the weather looked more promising and the sun was trying to peep through.

Considering it is literally in the jungle, the fishing lodge provides relative luxury with covered wooden walkways, comfortable en suite rooms with A/C and fans, swimming pool, jacuzzi, plenty of (too much?) great food and inclusive drinks. Any time you fancied a beer they were there in the fridge and Yvonne, the ever smiling bar lady, was only too happy to make you rum/fruit smoothies to die for! Two or three of these soon became my daily post fishing “tipple”, and I can almost taste them still!

Even from the most distant rooms it was a mere 50-yard walk to the boats, and a five-minute rapid ride down the river brought us to the fishing area on the sea side of a rather turbulent sandbar. As for the style of fishing, it was basically “back-drifting” in the considerable current where the 500-yard-wide river met the saltwater. The river water was quite coloured but, being less dense than seawater, tended to form a 6” deep “carpet beneath which the water was clear. Bait and lure fishing were possible, but I opted to fly fish for the whole week, and what fun it turned out to be!

My tackle consisted of a Cam Sigler 14-weight, 8-foot fly rod, large Orvis ”Mirage” reel loaded with 300 yards of 60lbs backing and the excellent Airflo 500grain “Depthfinder” weight forward fly line. The whole outfit proved a delight to use and absolutely perfect for the job in every way! At the business end I had 7 feet of 100lbs fluorocarbon attached by loop knot to a 6/7” fly on a seriously heavy 5/0 or 6/0 hook. I made mine with rabbit and racoon fur in red/white and red/black colours with a bit of “flash”, `though in truth I believe that big flies of any colour would almost certainly have been effective.

I was told that to boat one fish out of three hooked was good going, and during the week I contacted 17 fish and got five of them to the boat, so I was quite pleased with myself. The smallest fish I caught was estimated at 80lbs and the largest 180! I managed to beat two estimated 150 pounders in just under half an hour each, but the biggest one was hooked in its cheek and took two hours twenty minutes, while Ken, my fishing partner, poured water down my throat, over my head and onto my feet to keep me alive! It didn’t seem as though I would ever get the damned thing out, and it made us late for lunch. Worse still I didn’t even get a photo of the huge fish as Ken “mis-performed” with my camera! … C’est la vie!!

As a matter of interest, after a belated lunch and dip in the pool, within five minute of resuming fishing I hooked another big fish, which nearly pulled my left arm out of its socket, leapt 6 feet in the air, charged off 100 yards, cartwheeled twice and threw the hook. I turned round to Mani, the boatman, and said “Thank  …. for that !”   which says it all really! A second protracted battle at that stage would just about have finished me off I fear! These brutes take the term “fighting a fish” to a new level. If you were attached to them with a towrope, rather than rod and line, every single one of them would pull you in, such is their incredible power – it has to be experienced to be believed!

My best pal Ken, who caught a similar number of tarpon as me (and a 25lb Jack), was putting a serious bend in his 12-weight fly rod whilst playing his second hooked fish (another 100 pounder), and I warned him that it was going to snap. He had no sooner told me to “go forth and multiply” when there was a crack like a large-calibre rifle and the rod was in three pieces – the fish gone! I tried hard to refrain from “I told you so”, as I could see he was not best pleased (see pic!).

The takes seemed to come at any time without warning and could only be described as “savage” followed by screaming runs and multiple leaps. Considering they are 6 feet long and bright silver the spectacle is surely something not easily forgotten. I had always maintained that Giant Trevally fight harder than any fish on earth, but having now caught Giant Tarpon I have to say that there cannot be much in it!!

When beaten, by the way, the fish were either gaffed under the chin or gloved out (but not brought into the boat for safety reasons) and gently released after any photos had been taken. Not so however the 42lb Cubera Snapper caught by Jari from Finland, which was retained for food.

If you fancy one of fishing’s ultimate thrills consider a visit to Silver King Lodge, Costa Rica – I think it`s very unlikely that you would be disappointed!


Mike Green About Mike Green

Although a bit of a pike fanatic, Mike Green has been fishing in the UK and abroad for most of his life, catching coarse, sea and game fish in the UK, Canada, Alaska, New Zealand, Asia and Americas.