Summer in the Keys brings plenty of heat and humidity, but it also brings some great flats fishing for our famous bonefish, tarpon and permit. The best program I know of to find good fishing without collapsing from the hot, sticky weather is to start early. VERY early. Since our paddle-powered craft have limited speed, you want to time things so you are on your first “spot” around first light - around 6:15am - which means you’ll be launching in the dark. Bring a dependable, waterproof headlamp. I would recommend getting everything rigged up and ready to fish the night before, so you can get out of bed and get going with a minimum of delay. Realize that most tackle shops are not open at that hour, so have your bait ready ahead of time as well.
Juvenile tarpon are very active at sunrise, so I usually start with them. If the winds are light, they will roll and be easy to see in the low-light conditions. Dark-colored topwater baits work well, and dark gurgler flies will usually entice a strike from these 20-pound acrobats. As the light gets better by mid-morning, the plan is to move onto the flats to search for bonefish and permit. Timing the flats part of this operation to coincide with an incoming tide is usually best in the summer, as the incoming water is cooler and more comfortable for the fish. As the flats start to flood, bonefish and permit will move in to feed, munching on crabs, shrimp, snails and clams. By noontime, the sun becomes very strong, and a siesta is in order. After lunch and a little nap, the adventurous types might choose to hit the water an hour or two before sunset, which can also yield some terrific action.
The biggest danger to kayakers in the summertime is lightning. Short but violent squalls are pretty routine in the Keys during July and August, so plan accordingly. Besides a lightweight rain jacket, a radar application on your smartphone showing current precipitation and lightning is a real plus. Keys’ summer squalls can blossom rapidly - sometimes in as little as 30 minutes - and catch the unaware kayaker off guard. If you find yourself close to a lightning-producing squall and you are unable to get to land, your best refuge is a nook in the mangrove shoreline. The one place you DO NOT want to be is out in the open water during lightning. The good news about all this foul weather talk is that after the squall passes, it is usually quite calm for a half hour or so, and the fishing will, many times, turn on nicely. I assume it’s due to the water temperature being slightly lowered by the passing wind and rain.
For those of you pursuing juvenile tarpon, nighttime fishing around the many Keys’ bridges can be very good, especially on an outgoing tide. The general rule on kayaking after dark is to only go in an area that is very familiar to you, since it is easy to get disoriented in the low light conditions. Of course, you will want dependable lighting, and wear your lifejacket in case of any mishaps.
If you’d like help in your piscatorial pursuits, I’d be happy to show you the ropes! I have a small fleet of Jackson kayaks all set up to fish, along with all necessary spin or fly gear, and 16 years of local fishing knowledge to share with you. Ring, text or email and let’s go fishing!
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