March Madness Key West Style
This is truly a wonderful time of the year to be fishing the flats and backcountry in Key West. The weather is perfect most of the time, not too hot with a comfortable breeze most days. But more importantly fishing is, as they say, off the hook! And to trump all the great fishing Key West has to offer, fishing for permit on the flats is at it’s best.
Right now we are in a six to eight week window of probably the best permit fishing of the year (summer months are really good too!). From about late February to late April- when permit start moving offshore to spawn, they can be found just about anywhere on the flats from around Key West down to the Marquesas. I’m not just talking about regular size permit either, we see plenty of those manhole cover size permit methodically working across the flats digging up the bottom for delicious crabs.
Tides and weather are still very important, as those two factors will mainly determine when and where we fish for permit. When all of the environmental factors line up just right - clear sky, a good breeze, good tides and water temperature; it can be like a free buffet and permit in mass will flood onto the flats. It is very common on these days to have upwards of 20+ different opportunities at permit in a day. These are the days we come back to the dock, head high and chest out, bragging about the multiple permit our anglers caught that day.
For you fly fishing enthusiasts, this is the time of year you guys will have your best chances of getting a permit on fly, see previous paragraph. Blow the dust off your fly rods that have been sitting around all winter and start practicing your cast. Have your double haul and backcasts dialed in so we’re not fooling around dealing with wind knots and other messes when there is permit tailing in front of the skiff.
Now we know this is a great stretch of time for permit on the flats. It may have even been discussed in the past by other very prominent Keys guides and permit anglers. I don’t think it’s new groundbreaking stuff I’m discussing here. Heck, there is even a fly fishing only for permit tournament held in Key West each March, the March Merkin.That in itself tells us how important this time of year is to Keys permit guides.
What else is out there on the flats along with all those permit? Well, the big barracudas, sharks and jacks on the rays we’ve been targeting all winter are still around, bonefish are plentiful again in the warm springtime water and the occasional cobia might make an appearance on the back of a shark or sting ray. And of course, tarpon!
I will write more about tarpon in next month’s article, but for now tarpon are showing up in huge numbers near Key West, following the warming water into the harbor, surrounding channels and onto the flats. This is the beginning of the spring tarpon migration. Early morning starts and late evenings fishing into the night is a blast and laid up tarpon in the backcountry are a special treat for fly rodders and spin anglers alike.
The next several weeks are a very special time to be fishing in Key West. We are in a time of transition from winter fishing to summer fishing. Everything we fish for throughout the year is available to us right now. It is both a blessing and a curse! Meaning, during the tough days on the flats we can spend some time in the channels and catch a bunch of different species including jacks, tarpon and sharks to make the day a success. It means extra tackle, rods, flies and bait on the boat everyday to be ready for everything we might encounter.
For you fly fishing purists who are seeking the holy grail of fly fishing, a permit on fly, you need to be here now!
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