The TOP 9 Best Flies for Tarpon Fishing (The Only Fly Patterns You Need)

Tarpon are one of the most exciting species to catch on a fly rod but without the right flies, your chances of hooking them go down very quickly.

So, what are the best flies for tarpon?

Tarpon love to eat bait fish and shrimps, so a fly that imitates their natural prey is going to do the job. But, some are better than others.

Below, you will find my favorite tarpon flies that work everywhere in the world.

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Tarpon Flies at a Glance – a Quick Guide & TOP 3 Picks

If I could only have 3 tarpon flies with me I would choose the EP Peanut Butter, Ruoff’s Laid Up Tarpon Fly, and the Gurgler.

The reason being is that they imitate baitfish and shrimps, and they work in different scenarios from laid up fish to moving fish and as searching patterns. This means you are ready for any situation tarpon fishing throws at you.

When choosing tarpon flies you should think about:

  • Imitation – tarpon feed on bait fish and shrimp more than anything, make sure your flies imitate these.
  • Size – tarpon range between 20 lb and 200 lbs, so they eat large-ish flies. Sizes 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, and 4/0 are ideal.
  • Color – a mixture of natural colors like tan & white and blue & white are essential, but so are darker and brighter colors that catch a tarpon’s attention such as black & purple and chartreuse.

The 9 Best Tarpon Flies to Have in Your Fly Box

Lefty’s Deceiver

Lefty’s Deceiver Fly

Lefty’s Deceiver was designed by the fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh. This fly started out as a fly for striped bass but being such an awesome imitation of bait fish, it is now a must-have saltwater fly for all predatory fish, including tarpon.

What makes this fly so great is its profile and action in the water. It looks just like a small fish and when stripped, moves so naturally through the water that fish can not resist it.

This is such a popular fly that it is even featured on a postal stamp in the US, which is saying something!

A great tip for beginners in saltwater fly fishing is to start your day with this fly as it is a great searching pattern.

Sizes & Colors

You can buy Lefty’s Deceiver in sizes 1 and 2/0. It is worth owning a few of each size and in a range of colors.

The most effective colors for this fly are all black, all white, and chartreuse.

How to Fish a Lefty’s Deceiver

Since Lefty’s Deceiver imitates a bait fish, it should be fished like one. Lead the tarpon you are casting to by at least 6 feet and then use short but quick consecutive strips.

Mangum's Dragon Tail

Mangum's Dragon Tail

The Mangum’s Dragon Tail was created by one of the best tarpon guides who has ever lived, David Mangum. He designed it to fool the fussiest and largest of tarpon on the flats of Florida, and boy does it work.

What makes this fly so effective is a large head that pushes water, attracting fish, while also allowing the tail to swing and pulse. This action is incredible in the water.

Even when the Mangum’s Dragon Tail isn’t moving, the fly still has a fishy action and tarpon will eat it when it is sitting dead still on the water.

It is not just great for tarpon and will also work at all the great saltwater fly fishing destinations across the world.

Sizes & Colors

This fly comes in sizes 1/0 through to 6/0. The best sizes for tarpon are 1/0, 2/0, and 4/0. It is best to own some of each size.

Great colors for this fly are black & purple and black & white.

How to Fish Mangum’s Dragon Tail

The Mangum’s Dragon Tail imitates a bait fish but due to its incredible action, can be fished a number of ways. The most popular is leading the fish and following this up with slow short strips. Throw in a long pause to invite the tarpon to eat the fly when its stationary.

Tarpon Toad

Tarpon Toad

The Tarpon Toad is one of the go to flies for tarpon and it should be on any saltwater fishing trip’s packing checklist for this amazing species.

The tarpon toad evolved from the Merkin Crab, a very effective permit fly. It has a similar horizontal body with a longer tail and no legs to imitate a toad fish, a species tarpon love to prey on.

The horizontal body allows the fly to hover in the water column when you pause between your strips, and the tail has an excellent action to it. It really does get tarpon going especially in the Florida Keys.

Sizes & Colors

The Tarpon Toad is available in sizes 1/0 and 2/0 and owning a few of each size in a range of colors is recommended. The best colors are black & purple and chartreuse & white.

How to Fish a Tarpon Toad

As with all baitfish imitations and tarpon, lead the fish and follow it up with short strips, sliding the fly until the tarpon inhales it.

EP Peanut Butter

The EP Peanut Butter, designed by fly tying legend Enrico Puglisi, imitates every bait fish around and is a go to fly for almost all the top saltwater fly species in the world.

What makes this fly so effective is its profile combined with the EP fibers, integrated flash, and great eyes. It looks so much like a bait fish that everything from tarpon to snook and GTs love this fly.

It is also a light fly that doesn’t absorb water, making it easy to cast long distances and really put the fly in the feeding zone.

Sizes & Colors

The EP Peanut Butter comes in sizes 1/0, 2/0, and 3/0. It is wise to own a few in each size and in a range of colors to match the bait fish size where you are fishing.

The most effective colors include olive & white, gray & white, and black & purple.

How to Fish the EP Peanut Butter

When fishing the EP Peanut Butter, lead the fish by 6-9 feet and start with a slow long strip. Then match the fish for speed, as it reacts to the fly.

Ruoff’s Laid Up Tarpon Fly

Ruoff’s Laid Up Tarpon Fly was designed by Rick Ruoff, one of the top tarpon guides in the Florida Keys. This fly is so effective as it imitates both a large shrimp and small bait fish, making it hard for a tarpon to pass up.

It was made for targeting laid up fish close to the surface which are chilling or having a nap. The fly lands incredibly softly so as not to spook the fish. Once stripped it has an incredible action in the water that tarpon struggle to resist.

​​Sizes & Colors

The best variations of this fly are in a size 1/0 in a beige, black & purple, or chartreuse color.

How to Fish Ruoff’s Laid Up Tarpon Fly

Ruoff’s Laid Up Tarpon Fly is best fished slow as you will be casting it to laid up tarpon. Try to get the fly to land within 3 feet of the fish, and then move it slowly until the fish notices the fly and comes up on it!

Black Death

The Black Death is another tarpon fly designed by a legendary guide, Stu Apte. It is an awesome fly that big migratory tarpon love and its design makes fishing it easy.

It is a light fly and its elongated head combined with a thin profile makes punching it into the wind on a cast very easy.

The head also allows the fly to glide through the water with ease while the tail has a ton of action that predatory fish like tarpon love! Add in the large eyes, and you have a fly that imitates a bait fish excellently.

Sizes & Colors

This fly comes in sizes 2/0 and 3/0 and owning a few of each is recommended. The most effective colors include black & red and black & purple.

How to Fish the Black Death

Since the Black Death fly imitates a bait fish, it can be fished fast or slow. Lead the fish and start with a slow strip and then match the fish for speed as it approaches the fly.


The Gurgler is a surface fly that is effective for a range of predatory fish from bass to GTs and of course, tarpon. It was designed by Lee Haskin and has been catching fish since the 1950s.

The Gurgler is made with foam and a bait fish profile. When stripped across the surface, the fly pops and gurgles, making a disturbance on the surface. This attracts fish and they can not help but come up and inhale it off the top.

Sizes & Colors

The best size for a Gurgler is a 3/0 and you should own it in various colors from chartreuse to black and black & purple.

How To Fish The Gurgler

The Gurgler is best fished slow. Long stripes with large pauses in between are the name of the game.

Palolo Worm

The Palolo Worm is a go to tarpon fly when the palolo worm hatch is going off in South Florida during the summer.

When the palolo worms are rife in the water, the tarpon almost eat them exclusively over anything else. This means it is an essential fly for anyone tarpon fishing in Florida, but will also work in other areas too.

It is made with a red rabbit tail and chenille body, and looks just like a palolo worm. It can also be tied in various other color patterns too.

Sizes & Colors

It is best tied on a 1/0 or 2/0 hook and great colors include red and red & orange.

How to Fish the Palolo Worm

The Palolo Worm should be fished at a medium pace with pauses in between your strips. Try to create the wiggle of a worm and you will have tarpon coming at your fly.

EP Tarpon Bunny

The EP Tarpon Bunny is another Enrico Puglisi fly that has fooled some of the largest and smartest tarpon around and is a must-have in your tarpon fly box.

The large head pushes water while the long tail has incredible movement when the fly is moved. Combine this with the excellent bait fish profile it exhibits and you have a fly that tarpon and other predators can’t help but take an interest in.

It is an all-around tarpon fly that will catch you fish everywhere from Costa Rica to Cuba and Florida.

Sizes & Colors

This fly comes in one size 2/0 and the best colors are black & purple along with tan & white.

How to Fish the EP Tarpon Bunny

The EP Tarpon Bunny should be cast ahead of fish and retrieved slowly and smoothly. You should then match the fish for pace, increasing speed as the fish moves faster.

How to Choose Tarpon Flies

In order to buy tarpon flies that are going to do the job, there are a few factors that you simply have to think about.

These include imitation, size, color, and hook quality.

fly rod and reel on beach

What does the Fly Imitate?

Tarpon love to eat bait fish and shrimps, these make up the majority of their diet. But they also enjoy seasonal hatches of other things like the palolo worms I mentioned already.

Make sure the flies you buy match a range of the fish, shrimp, and worms tarpon eat. They are generally around 3 inches long and need to be in a range of colors.

Does Color & Size Matter?

Size is all about matching the hatch and everything tarpon like to eat comes in sizes 1/0, 2/0, 3/0 and 4/0. These are the sizes your tarpon flies should be.

Colors are the next thing to think about. Natural imitations are important and these include colors like tan & white and blue& white which look like mullet and pilchards.

Bright and dark colors are also useful as they create a profile that is easier for fish to see. Black & purple, black & red, black, and chartreuse are all great bets.

How Strong do the Hooks Need to be?

Tarpon grow in excess of 200 lbs in some parts of the world. This not only requires you to have the right saltwater fly reel and saltwater fly line to subdue them, but also strong enough hooks.

A hook with a super sharp point and one that doesn’t open under pressure is essential. Make sure to tie your flies on or buy flies with Gamakatsu SC15-2H hooks.

Winding Up

Tarpon fishing is about as exciting as saltwater fly fishing gets, so it pays to have the best flies for tarpon with you to make the most of your trips. Once they eat a fly, their aerial show is very hard to beat!

Please leave us a comment below with any questions you might have or stories about tarpon fishing, we would love to hear from you!

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fishing on streams and lakes in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles and offshore, there are not many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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