The Florida Keys are some of the most famous tarpon hunting grounds found anywhere in the world. These gin clear waters are riddled with tarpon in the 40-80 pound class and can even be caught in the 100lb class on these shallow flats during the summer months. Flies for fishing these shallow water playgrounds need to be aerodynamic to cast long distances but boisterous in the water to get these serious predators attention.
Legendary saltwater fly tier Stu Apte developed just such a fly pattern the “Black Death”. This tarpon fly has an elongated tapered head design that provides little wind resistance on long casts while at the same time the contrasting colored tailing materials seem to make this fly come alive in the water.
The Black Death can be tied in two separate styles, the first combines multiple saddle hackles and marabou while the second uses rabbit strips. Both patterns can be used on the shallow water flats and the action is comparable between the different materials.
Tarpon are noted as being most active in the early morning when these shallow waters are flat. A good idea is to get out and set up early on these days so that you do not spook any of your intended targets while you are just getting into range. Accurate casts and soft presentations to these flat water fish are important to your success. Once you get the fly in the water without spooking the fish the pace and level of retrieval is critical. The fly should never get out of eye level of the tarpon. Ideally if you can keep you fly just above the fishes eye level and approximately two feet in front of its nose for a few seconds at a time, you have a great chance of hooking up for the fight of your life.
Start this fly by placing the hook into your vice and securing it down tightly. Attach the thread at the point above the hook barb and clip off the tag end of thread.
2. Select four red saddle hackles and strip off the end webby hackle fibers. Strip all four hackles to the same length and place them back to back in groups of two. Place the two groups of hackles together (convex sides in) so that the two sets of hackles splay away from each other. Tie this grouping of hackle onto the hook shank at the point above the barb.
Repeat this process again with the four black saddle hackles and tie them onto the outside of the red hackles tied down in the last step.
4. Form a dubbing loop and add in the black rabbit fur. Spin the loop tightly and create a thick bushy rabbit fur hackle. Wrap this fur hackle forward up the hook shank making sure to stroke back the fur with each proceeding wrap. After you have created a thick bushy hackle tie off the fur hackle and clip the excess thread. Build a small neat head of thread and wrap the thread forward to the ˝ point on the hook shank. Whip finish the thread.
Place a few drops of black epoxy on the thread head you built and allow the fly to dry on your epoxy drier. Once dried attach a pair of stick on eyes to each side of the head and re-coat the entire head and hook with some clear head cement.