Fly fishing's very rich history continues to grow because pioneering fly fishers pursue new species and develop new fly fishing methods.

After being instrumental in developing the bait tarpon fishery in South Carolina, Captain Fuzzy Davis, and Raz Reid, Davis' long time fly fishing friend, and Sage tackle representative, fished for six seasons using traditional fly fishing techniques trying to take a S.C. tarpon on the fly.

They found fish, but the fish just would not take a fly. Dr. Bill Miller, a consistent customer, fished with Captain Davis over a two year period trying to hook a South Carolina tarpon on the fly using every method known to them at the time.

After further research, and after combining an effective bait-based tarpon attracting technique with bluewater fly fishing techniques, Captain Davis (LEFT) devised a method to catch tarpon in South Carolina coastal water conditions that defied normal tarpon-on-the-fly methods. In 1994, Dr. Miller of Bluffton, SC guided by Captain Davis, who at that time was based in Hilton Head, South Carolina, caught and released the first recorded tarpon on the fly in South Carolina coastal waters. This account of the event describes their system for catching the first South Carolina tarpon, a modern method that will enable you to catch tarpon on the fly in non-typical tarpon waters today.

The South Carolina Challenge

Unlike the clear, shallow waters that hold tarpon in the keys or Homosassa, Florida, South Carolina coastal fly fishers are challenged by deep water, strong eight foot tides, and dark sediment laden waters. Captain Davis says normal methods for taking tarpon don't work because "the fish couldn't see the flies well. It was frustrating, but we had to figure out a different way to get tarpon to take the flies."

Davis spent time with famed south Florida tarpon Guide Robert Trosset in Key West, fishing Trosset's "drift back" method for attracting tarpon and catching them on bait. While there, he caught many tarpon on bait with Trosset's method. Then Captain Davis fished in Costa Rica with tandem hook blue water "sailfish flies"(RIGHT), and built experience catching tarpon with these larger flies, and deep water presentations.

Using bait, Captain Davis had consistently caught South Carolina tarpon on "high energy sandbars where there is a deep drop-off, from three to thirty feet, and the bait fish are swept over this breakline on the incoming tide." Tarpon hold in the deep water and feed on the forage swept to them by the current. So Captain Davis blended what he had learned in Costa Rica with those big flies along with Robert Trosset's drift back method to define a productive system for fly based South Carolina tarpon fishing.

The Ultimate Test

Being aware of Captain Davis' attempts to catch tarpon on the S.C. coast on the fly, in fall 1994 Dr. Bill Miller of Bluffton, S.C., hired Captain Davis specifically to make another attempt to catch a S.C. tarpon on the fly with Davis new method. It was the perfect opportunity to test Captain Davis' new "chum, chunk, and drift back" method with blue water flies in S.C waters.

On Monday, September 12th, 1994, Captain Davis positioned his boat on the upcurrent side of the incoming tide. He set out the transom chum bag, and continuously chummed chunks of menhaden in the incoming tide into the rip (LEFT) at the dropoff to thirty foot water, to draw the tarpon in.

Simultaneously, Dr. Miller cast sailfish flies, one on a floating fly line, and one on a sinking fly line, into the chum line, and let them dead drift back into the deep water just beyond the rip and drop off where the tarpon should come up to feed. According to Captain Davis, it worked!" Within two hours, from the time we started using that new technique, we hooked up." Dr. Miller hooked two tarpon that day. After a one hour and forty minute battle, Miller landed and released one 120 pound tarpon (RIGHT), the first fly caught South Carolina tarpon.

After their success, Capt. Davis recalled, "we went back on the following Wednesday using the same technique, hooked four tarpon, and caught and released one 110 pound tarpon (LEFT)."

They had proven Davis' "chum, chunk, and driftback" system for taking tarpon on the fly in S.C. waters. Davis continued, "It is not sight casting, and it is not the way you catch tarpon in Homosassa, Key West, or Islamorada, but its a way that you can catch a tarpon on the fly in South Carolina." In addition to the tarpon that were attracted and caught, according to Capt. Davis, "we caught big redfish, big sharks, and kings". Fred Rummonds (RIGHT) hoists giant red drum before release.


On the S.C. coast you'll be fighting tarpon in 30 to 50 feet of water, battling straight down, in current of 4 or 5 knots. Captain Davis advises "where you could use a 10 or 11 weight rod in the keys, in South Carolina you would be better off fishing a 13 or even a 14 weight rod, with more lifting power."

Use a high quality saltwater reel spooled with 300 to 400 yards of backing. Rig a standard big game leader, use 80 to 100 pound shock tippet, and tie your fly on with a loop connection to give it best action.

Captain Davis suggests "fish three rods out of the transom of your boat. Cover the entire water column by fishing a sinking line, or an intermediate sink, maybe two intermediate sinks on both corners, and a floating line in the middle. Vary the strip on each line, and the time you're letting the fly out, and stripping the fly back in. You're constantly covering all the water this way."

The best fly pattern is the tandem hook blue and white sail fish fly with silver tinsel, although green, pink, and black and white also caught fish. "Where we were fishing, the water is very dark, but the fish were seeing these large profile flies."

The Chum, Chunk, and Drift back Method

The South Carolina tarpon season runs from late June through the end of September or early October, and action is best on the first and third moon. Two major structure areas where you'll find tarpon in South Carolina and Georgia are: (1) sand bars where water flows over them on the incoming tide, and falls off into a channel. This is discernible by a tide line, or tide rip. (2) Rocky ledges in 25 to 50 foot deep sounds, where you'll see white foam tide lines. Tide lines are different from a rip current because there's not a distinct boil in the water. It is where a lot of foam and debris flows into the sound, and you want to get adjacent to one of these. If you consistently see tarpon in these areas, fish them.

Boat handling is very important while using this system, because you have to keep the fly line close to the boat, you have to be able to see it the whole time, and you have to be able to be there to coach your angler the whole time. It is imperative that you use an anchor ball release buoy, because you won't have time to pull your anchor to chase a tarpon.

Chumming/Chum Line

Use menhaden, the No. 1 chum of choice. Establish your chum slick and your chum line. Use chunks, and a bag of ground chum hanging off the transom, so if at any time you have to quit chunking to take care of business on the boat, you still have the scent line established. Davis says "Somebody has to be chunking consistently. You can't have a break in the chum line."

The chum bag is important -- fill it with FRESH menhaden. "We might spend an hour or two catching chum before we even started fishing, or catch it the day before and ice it, but it has to be fresh. Frozen baits, frozen chum, frozen blocks of chum do not work. Avoid menhaden oil. If you're going to get a 140 or 150 pound fish, you're going to have to chum fresh menhaden." Robert Trosset has substituted byproduct from shrimp boats with great success, so in lieu of menhaden, "try fresh shrimp boat trash."

Don't just broadcast bait, then throw flies out there. Distribute the chum to work the whole area. Use sharp kitchen shears to snip the size chunks you want to sink in the chum line. When the current is running slow, use smaller chunks; when the current is running really hard use bigger chunks. You can up the size of the chunks and they will sink quicker in the deeper water. Read the speed of the current, adjust the sink rate of the chunks by their size, and properly work the entire water column.

Another Davis' tip: "instead of cutting your bait up, on the slack current, or when the tide starts to slow down, use a syringe to inject air into whole menhaden to float on top, and bring an entire school of fish up. Then drift your fly back."


Once the chum line is set, cast your fly into the current, and let it dead drift back in the chum line. As soon as the fly hits the end of that drift, start back with a slow strip. Half the fish will take it on the way out on the dead drift, and half of them will take it on the first four or five strips coming back in. Stay alert -- pickups can occur right to the boat.

Stay on top of your tarpon the whole time you are playing it. Run it down, and stay over the fish. The tarpon is going to jump, so with this heavy current, and this deeper water, it is imperative to work the fish with very short pumps to gain 3 or 4 inches of line. Dr. Bill Miller (LEFT) pumps to regain some fly line lost to the big tarpon.

Keep your rod low to your body, and your rod tip close to the water to maximize the lifting power of the rod, and minimize your fatigue. Keeping the rod high will tire you, not the tarpon.

If there are tarpon in your area, and you haven't been able to take them on the fly, try Captain Davis' tantalizing "chum, chunk, and drift back" method. You may discover a new tarpon fishery in your local dark waters.

If you want to catch Tarpon, Red drum (redfish, spottail bass) or spotted sea trout on the South Carolina coast, contact Captain Fuzzy Davis by phone at (912)-547-1464 or EMAIL Captain Fuzzy Davis here.