WORDS: Captain Justin Bachert
PHOTOS: Asher Koles

My approach towards fly fishing and guiding for tarpon, overall, is based off of an accumulation of my past experiences – as a mariner, waterman, and angler. Our ecosystem in south Florida, and in the Florida Keys is seemingly ever-changing and being able to adapt to those changes is what we all need to focus on.

As a guide that has spent a profuse—if not borderline-offensive—amount of time on the water… there seemingly isn’t a short, concise description of what it takes to be an effective in Tarpon angler.

When you find yourself on the bow of a skiff in clear water, whether this is the first time or you’re a veteran to it, you know that you’re going to have to bring your “A” game. These fish know the game very well and simply having respect for the game that it takes to be successful isn’t going to be given to you by your guide.

This comes only with a past amount of failure, heart-ache and sweat-equity – make the shots count! You will be thrust into a knee-shaker at any moment, this is the kind of craziness you came here for, after all.

“Ok, here they are…tarpon laid up on the backside of the grass patch at eleven o’clock…about 50 yards out…get ready to fire!”

When you hear these words from your guide, first time or twenty-fifth time, you’re going to get that feeling we all love as outdoorsmen and hunters. Knowing you can hit that eighty-foot cast into the steady head-wind with your Air 2 Max gives you all the confidence you need. “Get that rod-tip down and get that fly moving…long slow…painfully slow…he ate it, come tight…clear your line, don’t pull while he jumps, be aggressive.”

…“Left-side, drop it now”… “motherload at Twelve, five-hundred yards out…Get ready…”, “slow swimmer at Two o’clock, moving, left to right…you’re only going to get one shot at this”, “slow, slow, slow…she didn’t see it—pick up and recast now—go!”

Our goal is to fight these fish as quickly and effectively as possible. Using light breakaway leaders, there is an element of finesse required…right alongside gut-busted, heavy-lifting.

These are just a few of the head-pounding, heart-racing, sweat-in-your-eye moments you can expect to be in on the bow of my skiff…

The dance is as delicate as it is chaotic…lifting, pulling, bowing, switching up-and-over now, heavy-lifting now, get that leader in the end guide! Now, don’t F*** it up!!

Having the ability to lift heavy line and large flies in an instant to adjust fly placement is the key. Moving sinking line from one side of the boat, to the other side, with a lift and a back cast just after seeing a rolling fish is how we get the bite and it’s imperative to capture that opportunity. Soft rods do not accomplish this; heavy butt sections alone cannot accomplish this, but rather an even load—from the cork to the tip—will get you in the meat. This is why the Air 2 Max owns real estate in my rod holders and are always ready to punch that clock and go to work. The Air 2 Max will put the heat on these large tarpon and land them quickly, which is always the goal in my skiff.

Captain Justin Bachert was born in Carmel, NY and introduced to Bass and Trout fishing at the age of 4. After moving to Marco Island, FL at the age of 13, snook, tarpon and redfish became the fish of choice. He now resides in Big Pine Key, FL and guides in the Lower Keys and Everglades National Park, fishing for Tarpon, Bonefish, Permit, Snook and Redfish. He is a Florida Atlantic University Graduate, US Navy Veteran & Full-Time, Year-round guide in the Florida Keys.