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If you've ever wanted to fish Tarpon Cay Lodge on the western shores of the Yucatan for baby tarpon, here are the fishing details you need to know!

Tarpon Cay Lodge offers some of the best fly fishing for juvenile tarpon (called sabalitos in Spanish... meaning little tarpon) to be found anywhere in the Americas. Anglers find tarpon cruising the outside turtle grass flats, roaming mangrove-lined rivers, probing creek mouths and staging in the bays beyond.

A competent angler can jump a dozen or more sabalitos a day and if lucky, put a few in the boat too. Tarpon Cay Lodge is a world class angling destination and a must-do for serious saltwater anglers. Here are the details on how to equip yourself and what you can expect regarding the technical requirements of fishing the area.


The TCL guides can often find fish on all stages of the tide. They work hard to do so, see fish incredibly well, pole quietly (with their hand-hewn white mangrove poles), work a staked-out panga as well as anybody I've ever seen, position the boat quickly to conform to an angler's casting window and yet somehow manage to be relaxed, enthusiastic and supportive.

Carlos poles at dusk

The guides are always on time for both the morning and evening sessions. They try hard to accommodate anglers needs as much as possible. Tarpon Cay Lodge is managed by Captain Marco Ruz. He is an experienced fly fisherman and knows well the needs of visiting clients. Marco's guides, Carlos, Chris and Martin use stable 18' pangas. These boats have well proportioned casting decks, seat cushions and plenty of room for gear. They are powered by 40 hp. Yamaha 2 or 4 stroke engines. All fishing is conducted out of these pangas. (There is no wading in any of the fishing areas so don't bother to bring wading shoes.) The fishing begins five minutes from the lodge and takes no more than 25 minutes to arrive at the most distant areas. Each guide communicates with the others so there is no stepping on each others toes. 


Anglers usually fish fast 8 or 9 weight rods with quality reels with disk drags. You will be fishing a floating fly line most of the time as the tarpon are usually found in very shallow areas sometimes as little as one foot deep! Lightweight, slow sinking, or top-water flies are mandatory. Floating lines are perfect for the variety of environs found near TCL which includes shallow turtlegrass flats, mangrove-lined coasts, rios and the mouths (bocas) of these rivers. It's good to bring at least two rods so you can rig one with a floating fly for the rios and shallow bays and the other with a subsurface or neutral density fly for the outside flats.

Suggested fly lines are: Rio Tarpon Taper, Tropical Clouser, Tropical Outbound SHORT. Most line companies makes equivalent lines.

In June through August, larger 30-90 lb. migratory tarpon travel into the area demanding a 10 wt. rod and floating, intermediate with clear slow sink tips and sink tip lines. 

Suggested fly lines for pursuing migratory tarpon in moderate water depth or to keep fly beneath the chop on the surface are: SA 400 grain Tropical Streamer Express Clear Tip, Rio Deep Sea 350 – 450 grain,  Rio Tropical Outbound SHORT WF/F-I and Rio Tarpon Taper WF/F-I. 


The truth is you don't need any specific fly patterns. Spin a natural deer hair head cropped close (or use a bit of foam wrapped with thread) for buoyancy, add a few strands of bucktail to avoid fouling hackle tips splayed-out tarpon style and a bit of Kraft Fur to cover the hook. Then add a few strands of Krystal Flash. In ten minutes you're done. These flies float or ride just below the surface. For juvenile tarpon in shallow water this simple tie works like a charm. Red, yellow, orange, black Kraft Fur with natural grizzly, yellow grizzly, or tan grizzly hackle is best.

As expert fly tier Doug Jeffries said: 

"If you didn't want to be fancy this fly in different colors and sizes would probably work 80% of the time. Easy peazy. The bigger fish on the outside flats jumped on the tan version. I think it looks like a mullet or sardine. I'd tie up a yellow or orange version with more flash to use in the rios."

So, what this means is (as with all fly fishing) the key is presentation. If you can cast a 9' leader, GREAT!… if you can cast a 10-12' leader, so much the better! If the tarpon are happy and unaware of your presence, they will eat! I'd definitely make sure I had smaller flies in size 1 or even 2. Total fly length would be 2 to 2.5 inches. maximum 3 inches. Flies with mono snag guards are highly recommended especially when fishing deep in the sticks or in very shallow water.

Simple baitfish flies in size 1 work well for baby tarpon

Flies for Baby Tarpon:

In no way do you need all these flies, These are just some patterns that work well. I think flies should be tied on Tiemco 600SP hooks, Gamagatsu SS 15, or Owner Aki black hooks size 2, 1, to 1/0.

Merriman’s Tarpon Toad II (chartreuse, purple/black)
Flashtail Whistlers in yellow/orange; white/red and red/black, natural grizzly
Grizzly Flashtail Whistler bruised and a bit beaten from catching fish!

Tarpon Neutralizer
Shrimp Neutralizer
Slide Ball Slider
Deep Cover Shrimp.
TCL special – size 1 and 1/0 WORKS GREAT, but hard to purchase in size 1!

TCL Special with deer hair collar

TCL Special with foam collar
SeaDucers (red/white, red/yellow, or “cockroach”)
Puglisi Tarpon Streamer (Everglades Special, brown/tan, yellow/orange)
Haskin’s Foxxy Minnow (flesh, olive)

Haskin’s Foxxy Minnow

Megalopsicle 1 and 1/0
Mayan Warrior 1 and 1/0

Top Water Flies for Baby Tarpon: 

Puglisi Floating (Everglades Special, red/yellow) – size 1 and 1/0
Haskin’s Deep Cover Shrimp (weedless - tan/prawn) – size 1 and 1/0
Charlie’s AirHead - mullet or sardine

                          Airhead Mullet
Mini Gurglers (white, red/white, black ) – size 1 and 1/0


                                                                  S.S. Flies Gurgler
Haskin’s Floating Minnow (gray-griz/white, red/white, orange/yellow) - size 1 and 1/0 
Floris Van Den Berg's Cigar

Floris tying his "Cigar" (in foreground)

My 5 minute quick-tie "cigar" done after  siesta… and it worked!

Migratory Tarpon: 

SeaHabit (sardina color) – size 2/0
Whistler (red/white) – size 2/0, 3/0

Thalken’s Cruiser (anchovy / sardina) – size 2/0
Haskin’s Foxxy Griz (minnow-white) - size 2/0 or 1/0

Topwater Flies for Migratory Tarpon: 

Crease flies (black/silver, olive/silver, brown/gold) – size 1/0 and 3/0
Charlie’s AirHead (chartreuse/white, grey/white) – size 1/0 and 3/0



Leaders needn't be too complicated, but remember the leader is the final connection between you and the fish so it needs to be well-tied. Leader systems with efficient tapers and strong knots deliver accurate presentation of the fly and solid hooking power. Here are a variety of leader systems that work well: 

Rio Striped Bass Leader – 7 foot, 22 lb + Jinkai Shock (or equivalent for baby Tarpon): This is the simplest and highly effective baby tarpon leader setup. Utilize this leader with an Albright knot to connect shock tippet (40-50# Jinkai hard mono). Total leader length is about 10 feet. 

Simple Hard Mason Three Piece Leader + Jinkai Shock (recommended for baby Tarpon): Here is the formula for building this simple, but effective leader system. The tapered butt section consists of 3 - 4 feet of Mason 30# blood knotted to 2 - 3 feet of Mason 25 lb.. Blood knotted to this is an 18” section of Mason 20 lb. as your class/breaking tippet. Lastly, you use an Albright knot to connect a 2 - 3 foot section of shock/bite tippet (40- 50# hard mono.) NOTE: if you do not wish to tie your own leader systems, make sure to bring all of the leader materials and your guide will tie your leaders for you.

My No stress leader system for baby tarpon is 3.5 feet 50 lb. to 3.5 feet 40 lb to 3 feet 30 lb. all knots tied with double surgeons. VERY SIMPLE!

Quigley’s Twisted Leader System: This leader system utilizes a series of twisted mono sections to form the tapered portion of the leader. This leader has exceptional turnover power and shock absorption with its twisted line configuration. Added to this is a 2 – 3 foot section of shock/bite tippet (80 lb. Jinkai hard mono) attached with a No-Name or Albright knot. 


Baby Tarpon

Tarpon Cay Lodge: 30-50 lb. monofilament 

Migratory Tarpon

Tarpon Cay Lodge: 80 lb. monofilament