10… 11… 12… How to Choose a Fly Rod for Tarpon
Whether you’re taking your first tarpon trip, or upgrading your existing setup, one of the questions that you’re going to wrangle with is which line weight to choose. Of course, we're not talking about baby tarpon that you get in the backcountry or the Yucatan. We're talking about true, adult, 100+ lb tarpon. That choice typically comes down to 10-, 11-, or 12-weight. Here’s how to choose between them:
But first, here’s what some of the top guides in the Florida Keys have to say on the topic:
Capt. Justin Rea says, “Guides like me are moving away from 12-weight rods and going to 10- and 11-weights. They are much easier to throw all day and matched with larger reels like the Hatch 12 Plus and 11 Plus, they are deadly. The advantage is that they are lighter to cast and land much softer. You can get more technical with the casts and with bigger reels you are able to keep a good bend in the rod and land them quickly!”
Capt. Eric Wallace says, “The go-to rod is a one-piece 11-weight. The 11 has become the rod of choice in the keys. It gives you lifting power to pick up the fly and extra power to fight the fish. You have to win the battle quickly with tarpon and an 11-weight does that better than a 10-weight. To top it off, rod makers have started putting their best tapers on 11-weights."
The Case for the 10-weight
The go-to rod for saltwater fishing is an 8-weight. An 8 works for bonefish, redfish, smaller stripers, pretty much everything you can think of. For most of us, that means that the further you get away from an 8, either small or larger, the less you’ll use that rod. A 10-weight is not only a great tarpon rod, but works well for permit, roosterfish, milkfish, and most larger tropical species as well as a host of coldwater gamefish like pike and stripers. What I’m saying is that if you go for a 10-weight, you’ll probably get to fish the rod more than one week a year.
More importantly, 10-weights can also give you a lot of advantages when you’re tarpon fishing. They are light enough to cast all day and make a more delicate presentation than a heavier rod. If you’re an experienced saltwater angler, and you’re fishing for tarpon in clear water or high pressure environments (aka Florida), a 10-weight is the way to go. What’s the downside to a 10? It’s harder to land a big fish, and it’s easier to break than the heavier rods. If you’re fishing outside of the US for 150+ lb fish, you may want to think about lining up.
Split the Middle?
Bruce Chard made this argument perfectly: “Go with an 11-weight. A 10-weight is a specialty tool that can work really well, but needs an angler that knows how to apply pressure properly. 12-weights's are just too heavy and hard to cast all day.” 11’s are the split the middle between weight and strength and usefulness and specialization. Not to mention the first choice for all of the Keys guides we talked to.
I own an 11-weight. I don’t own a 12-weight. I like to think of the 11 as a “the new 12”, it’s a great fish fighting tool that you’ll be able to use anywhere there are big fish to be caught. It’s easier to fight big fish on than a 10, and it’s lighter to cast than the 12. So why wouldn’t you want an 11-weight? Well, for exactly the same reasons it’s great: It’s not as light or delicate as a 10, and doesn’t fight fish as well as a 12.
Go Big or Go Home
12-weights are definitely the traditional big tarpon hunter’s weapon of choice. While there’s plenty of argument on whether or not a 12 is still a 12, you’ll find plenty of 12-weight Crosscurrents in guide boats across the Keys. While it’s pretty clear that most tarpon fisherman have shifted to lighter rods, here are 3 good reasons to go with a 12-weight:
- You already have a 10- or 11-weight you like.
- You’re also planning a trip for sailfish or big GT in the near future.
- You’re going to a well-known big tarpon destination like Costa Rica or West Africa.
Ok, I’ve decided. Now which rod should I go with?
Still can’t decide?
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