Summer Time Tails
Another tarpon season is behind us and a tough season it was this year. Maybe the toughest spring I’ve been a part of. May was just windy, no flat calm mornings and a late season cold front made it a mostly miserable affair. Hopefully next year we can have some decent weather.
It’s summer now and thank goodness. Time to look forward to some days off and plenty of time in the water and on the bow of my skiff.
Summer in the Florida Keys is my favorite time of the year. Fishing on the flats for permit and bonefish is at its best especially during periods with negative tides early in the morning and in the evening. Bonefish will move onto the flats with the low incoming tide, shallow enough we can watch them tail as they feed along the bottom. On some of the flats where these bonefish will frequent, it’s too shallow for the skiff to get to them, making it a great opportunity to get out of the boat and wade.
Casting flies to tailing bonefish is by far the most productive approach as a lightly weighted fly will land softly next to these very wary fish. We can use bait, but the shrimp this time of year are tiny, living up to their name. So a weight attached to the line is necessary to be able to get the bait to the fish. However, this weight often makes too much noise entering the water and will spook the feeding bonefish. A very small crab will work as well, but again we run into the same issue as using a weight.
As the tide pushes in and the water level rises, we will start to see permit tail on those same flats as the bonefish. If you think bonefish are wary under tailing conditions, permit are even worse. I love to throw flies at tailing permit, but the skinny water and calm setting doesn’t always allow us to get close enough to cast.
If you’re ever going to wade for a fish on the flats, this is the time. Wading will allow the angler to get close enough to present a fly. You will get one chance at it so make it count. If you’re good and lucky, your fly will get eaten, but odds are the fish will blow out as fast as it can to the safety of deep water. Leaving the angler ‘knocky-kneed’ and sweating bullets. It’s an awesome heart pounding experience no matter the outcome.
Tailing conditions are typically short lived as the water level quickly rises to a point where we can’t see their tails out of the water. But no worries, we get back in the skiff and sightfish the flats in the deeper water. By this time these fish will be a little more comfortable with some water over their heads and we have a little more margin for error when presenting flies and bait.
Unfortunately we don’t have negative tides in the morning everyday. The tides occur at a different time each day so there are days we have high tide early in the morning. Throughout the summer when we have flat calm mornings and lots of water, we can find baby tarpon way up on the flats and around some the mangrove islands of the backcountry.
Baby tarpon are a ton of fun no matter the technique used, but fly fishing for them is by far the most entertaining. Baby tarpon are not shy and will eagerly eat a well placed fly. This is even more fun if you find them busting baitfish. Top water baits and flies get blasted with such ferocity the small ‘poons will clear the water attempting to eat them. Good times for sure!
Summer here in the Keys can be pretty hot. Not quite as bad as the majority of our country, but by about lunch time on a flat calm day everyone is ready to get off the water and cool down. If I’m on a charter, that means it’s time to head in, clean up and grab some lunch in the A/C. Otherwise I will bring my snorkeling gear and spear gun and spend a couple hours in the water hunting for hogfish and snappers.
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