Holiday Fishing Season
This is a bittersweet time of year for me. With not much going on around Key West during the holidays, business is slower for me. While I’ll pick up a few trips, the sweet part about this time is getting to spend more days on the water fishing the flats, heading offshore or diving for lobster.
This is a fishing guide’s time to take a little vacation, get off the rock for a while to visit family and friends or take that much anticipated vacation (as long as there is fishing involved). For me, traveling from Key West usually means heading north where everything is brown, grey, cold, wet and depressing! I’m not much of a traveler, I like it here where it is warm. When I do leave, I’m ready to head back by the time I hit Stock Island!!
Fishing the flats around Key West is still very pleasant during late fall and early winter. Weather however will play a much bigger role now than it did over the last several months as cold fronts begin to move over the Keys. These cold fronts, though typically weakened by the time they make it to the Keys, can have a big impact on the fish that frequent the flats. Mostly it’s a shift in the wind direction to the north, usually blowing 20+ mph. Sometimes a strong cold front will hit us and we’ll experience a quick drop in air temperature, which along with the strong northerly breezes, will rapidly cool the water and move the fish off the flats.
Depending on the weather, fishing can take on different directions. If we remain warm with lighter winds, the flats will be ideal for permit and bonefish. We can also have very good tarpon fishing in the channels and basins. Should we get hit with a stronger cold front and experience a rapid drop in temperature, fishing on the flats can be difficult at best. This is when we start fishing variety of species in the backcountry basins and channels.
The latter scenario, though at times a nuisance, is actually good in the long run. When we do get early cold weather, it seems to move the bait and the fish that follow that bait towards inshore waters. For example, fishing for jacks in the channels and basins will bring strong yields; we will then begin to see the big jacks that follow the sting rays on the flats. That is quite a sight!! This early cold weather also seems to have a positive effect on the spring tarpon fishing.
Worst case scenario is the period where it’s not quite warm enough to support consistent flats fishing for permit and bonefish and not quite cold enough to get things stirred up around the backcountry waters. We’re in limbo. It’s difficult to find permit and bonefish on the flats and the barracudas and jacks haven’t moved in yet.
This happened to us a couple years ago. I love going for the big jacks that will follow the stingrays on the flats, but this particular year they never showed, at least in the numbers I’ve seen historically. Those same flats are normally very strong for permit, big barracudas and usually loaded with sharks. This time they were absent. I would pole across huge flats seeing only a couple of stingrays with nothing following them. I would occasionally bump into a permit or maybe a shark or two. To add insult to injury, I couldn’t find enough fish in the channels that cut through the backcountry to warrant spending any significant amount of time to fish one area. It was hard work and lots of running around to put the day together. So bring on the cold fronts!!
Fishing the flats and backcountry areas of Key West can be spectacular during late fall and early winter. We can get out there, catch lots of different fish and have fun or we can be heroes chasing down the elusive flats Grand Slam. No matter the weather, we’ll work hard and make a day of it. But I say bring on the crappy weather so I don’t feel guilty for leaving the rock and missing out on good fishing!! Happy Thanksgiving!
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