Living On Tarpon Time

Pine Island Sound, Florida

Featured photo by Polly Dean.

On The Fly Saltwater

By Jimmy Jacobs

August 2021

To say that Captain Joe Harley is serious about tarpon fishing just might be an understatement.  According to his estimate, he spends as much as 300 days a year patrolling Pine Island Sound and surrounding waters with most of that time devoted to searching for those silver kings. If he doesn’t have a charter, he likely will be in his boat keeping up with what those fish are doing.

Capt. Joe Harley on the poling platform. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

If you still need confirmation of Capt. Harley’s passion for tarpon, when he climbs onto the poling platform of his boat, take a look at the inside calf of his left leg. There you’ll find a tattoo of a silver king standing on its tail, as if it just cleared the water when it felt the sting of a hook in its jaw.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

More support for his tarpon passion, as well as the quality of the angling for those fish in southwest Florida, comes from the fact that during a day of targeting the fish with him, he pointed out that he had fly-fished for tarpon in 22 of the 24 preceding months. Only in the deadest heart of the winter was he not able to find and fish them.

Although not a native of the area, he Is about as close as you can get “I moved to Pine Island In 1977 from Hershey, Pennsylvania, when I was 5 years old,” he pointed out. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Of course, it was a while after that before he discovered tarpon and fly fishing. “I grew up as a spin
fisherman and didn’t take up fly fishing until the end of the 1990s,” Capt. Harley explained. “I started guiding people at that time as well, but I did not start doing it  for a living until 15 years ago. That was here on Pine Island.”

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

As with most any guide that wants to stay in business, Capt. Harley takes anglers out in search of whatever is biting. which usually includes redfish and snook. But, given a choice, tarpon always are his first choice.

Tarpon offer a two-fold fishery in Pine Island Sound. Out on the open flats you find big fish of up to 100 pounds. Particularly in the fall and winter months, the water of the sound is gin clear, so it’s possible to sight cast those big boys. In fact, in the winter, the giant fish are likely to be the only ones on the flats. During the summer months, the sound’s waters turn dark, so only rolling fish offer casting opportunities.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Another option is to head into the mangrove-lined creeks that fringe the sound. These waters are home to baby tarpon that range from a foot long up to 30 or 40 pounds.

When it comes to the flies to use, Capt. Harley does have some favorites. “I don’t use a ton of different patterns, just variations of sizes and colors. I’ll make a fly on different hook sizes to control the sink rate.”

A selection of the captain’s tarpon flies. Photo by Polly Dean.

So, what are his five go-to patterns for tarpon in this area? “That’s an easy choice for me,” he grinned.

“Seaducer, a spun deer-hair slider surface fly and, of course, a Clouser. I  like a Tarpon Toad and some form of popper. If I had to pick five, it would be those style flies.”

Summing up the mission of his business also is easy for the captain. “I’ve got a neat little service that comes from being in this area my whole life. I just try to offer a good, basic, backcountry-flats fishing experience, using a boat built right in my neighborhood. The boat was built by one of my best friends. I’m a year-round guide with a life time of fishing these waters. I get all levels of people and angling experience, and we get all kinds of conditions.”

Capt. Joe Harley runs his Snooktown Charters out of Matlacha on the east side of Pine Island, but he can also make arrangements for trips out of Useppa Island near the north end of Pine Island Sound. For complete details, visit

Capt. Joe Harley. Photo by jimmy Jacobs.

And just so you don’t think the good captain is one dimensional, after a day on the water you may
also be able to catch him playing the guitar with his band The Hipnauticals at one of the local venues
around Fort Myers. Check them out at

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