The Prince Who Would Be 'Silver' King
If seeking epic salty battles on a fly rod, look to Florida's baby tarpon in the spring months
As the current season of winter begins to wane, the time to begin chasing tarpon is around the corner in the Florida Keys.
And with the approach of the frenzied April through June prime season for the Keys' legendary fights with the fabled Megalops atlanticus, the dreaming begins yet again for a Texas-based landlubber like me.
A fly rod enthusiast for whom the tarpon is – so far, at least – a royal and dreamy fish, one whose acrobatic feats fill many a late night reading session spent in front of the fireplace with hot coffee steaming up from a YETI Rambler.
For the most part, such late winter fishing dreams are usually tropical visions of huge tarpon bursting into the sky, saltwater kings with weights pushing up towards the 200-pound mark, a giant fish that can test the very limits of the best fly fishing tackle on the market.
But for Florida saltwater fly fishing pioneer and industry icon Flip Pallot (www.flippallot.com), silver-king dreams are much more enjoyable when they’re a bit smaller in volume.
As in the Sunshine State's baby tarpon, a smaller-size leaping prince of the Florida saltwater flats, canals and lagoons.
A few years back, Flip was gracious enough to spend a few moments answering the interview questions I peppered him with, information that has fueled my own personal dreams for catching a few of these noble fish.
With any luck, what follows here in this space will fuel your own On the Fly dreams.
To start with, why is fly fishing for baby tarpon such an appealing alternative in Flip's mind?
"It's more like a combination of bass fishing and snook fishing to fish for these small fish,” said Pallot, a sort of angling rock star in the fly fishing world.
Ranging up to 15 or 20 pounds in weight and up to 36 inches in length, these somersaulting tarpon aren't quite as big as their older cousins are, but they still test the limits of fly tackle in the six-, seven- and eight-weight rod categories.
"They hit it very, very hard for a fish that size,” said Pallot, a 74-year-old Mims, Florida, resident who is a longtime pro-staff member of such well known angling brands as Temple Fork Outfitters fly rods, YETI Coolers and Hells Bay Boatworks.
"As a matter of fact, I really don't think that there's a fish that size that strikes that hard or gives such a good account of itself as a small tarpon."
Having caught both the goliath and the junior-size versions of the silver king, Flip said that he actually prefers the smaller package.
"The fight is the same, the fish jump instantly when hooked," said Pallot, perhaps best known for his long running television tenures as host of Walkers Cay Chronicles and Ford's Fishing Frontiers.
"They continue to jump their hearts out as the fight continues."
What are some of the other reasons that Flip prefers the baby tarpon to its big brother?
For one, it is junior's eager willingness to smash a small saltwater streamer tied on a #4 or #6 stainless steel hook.
And then there's the sheer fun of actually catching them, not to mention the absence of the intense mental pressure that often bears down on an angler trying to land the triple-digit tarpon of a lifetime.
"It's virtually the same thing (as the bigger fish), (but it's) scaled down to something you can thoroughly enjoy for all of its aspects other than this tremendous, epic battle," said Pallot, a one-time commercial banker who left the coat and tie behind to become a fly fishing guide in southern Florida.
One of the other things that Pallot enjoys most about casting a fly towards a baby tarpon is it represents spot-and-stalk saltwater fishing at its best.
"Yeah, it's strictly sight fishing," said Pallot, who turned from a busy fly fishing guide into a legendary TV personality after Hurricane Andrew destroyed his then Homestead, Fla., home in 1992.
But even though the Category-5 hurricane pushed Pallot and his wife Diane north towards their current home between the St. Johns River and the Mosquito Lagoon, Flip has never lost his love for chasing the baby tarpon that swarm throughout southern Florida waters.
"You pole along these mangrove shorelines, peeling your eyes for these fish back up under the mangrove boughs," said Pallot.
"The neat thing is that if you spot one and make a good cast, it's usually not a question of whether or not you're going to get a bite."
While other forms of flats fishing can be ruined by the effects of the weather, that's typically not the case when casting a fly towards a smaller-size tarpon.
"Fishing for the giants on open flats and ocean side runs, if the wind is bad or the light is bad, you have trouble seeing them," said Pallot, an angler who was inducted into the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) Hall of Fame last fall.
"That's one of the benefits of the baby tarpon, it really doesn't matter (the weather). If the wind blows, find a lee shoreline where it's comfortable to fish and you can see them."
The author of numerous magazine articles on the sport along with the book Flip Pallot's Memories, Mangroves & Magic indicates that the shadows can actually help an angler see the baby tarpon in skinny water lying around mangroves that grow in and around the edges of the flats.
"Since I've been involved in television production, I've been really, really lucky to fish some very exotic locations," said Pallot.
"But I've yet to fish a destination that I've enjoyed more or look forward to returning (to) more than the Florida Everglades."
"It’s the place that I look forward to fishing the most."
Even if the silver piscatorial royalty at the end of Pallot’s fly line in those hallowed waters is something more of a diminutive prince than a legendary and mammoth king.