Throughout my time here as a FishMonster contributor, I have mentioned many times my favorite time of the year to be fishing the flats around Key West. The summer months are my number one choice and that period of time probably gets the most mention. There is another section of the calendar, however, that is equally important to us on the flats and, in some respects, may be better than the summer, and that is right now--March through April. There are many reasons as to why I prefer this time of the year over others and I will discuss them below. The main reason this time of year is so good is the variety of species we have on the flats and moving through the backcountry waters. And, since this is also the busy time of year for charters, there is normally plenty of something around to make each day an excellent experience for my clients.
The number one reason I love this time of year is chasing permit. This is probably the best part of the year for permit fishing on the flats. Permit are now getting ready to head offshore to spawn in May. As a result, there are a lot of big permit roaming the flats looking for crabs. There are days you can’t not find them. They will be everywhere--schooled up, in singles or pairs, big and small, in shallow tailing or a little deeper mudding. One of my favorite times hunting for tailing permit is the late afternoon/early evening with a low tide. It is definitely one of the most exciting, knee-knocking and frustrating times to fish for permit and well worth the frustration.
Tarpon are here and, like permit, they can be found just about anywhere. Tarpon, at this time, are a bit more eager to eat than those moving down the oceanside later in May. Tarpon are mostly found in the backcountry now, moving through the channels and along the flats, so fishing for them is a little easier than on the oceanside and in Key West Harbor when it is rough. Because it gets dark fairly early still, night fishing for tarpon is reasonable. The fish aren’t constantly run over by cruise ships, sunset watchers, wave runners and all the other boat traffic going through the harbor since the fish are mostly far away from all of the madness.
Bonefish will be a little hit and miss, but mostly a hit. We will be looking for them on the same flats as permit, so be ready!
Now, for the fun stuff. All winter I talked about the big barracudas, jacks on rays, redfish, cobia and the fun species found in the basins. Well, all of this is still going on now at the same time as the big three stars of the flats mentioned above. As you might imagine, it can get quite hectic. There are a couple areas I fish where we can find all of these fish on the same flat.
When I have spin anglers, I will have eight to ten rods rigged and ready for everything. We’ll have a rod for tarpon, a rod for permit, a rod for bonefish, a rod for barracudas, a rod for jacks and a rod for sharks and their backups. Luckily, some of the rods can pull double duty, but it is still a lot of rods with hooks hanging off of them laying around the skiff.
March through April is really an excellent time of year to experience the flats and backcountry fishing around Key West. This is a transition period from winter fishing to summer fishing and, when we are right in the middle of it, there is something for everyone. There are lots of opportunities for the not-so-serious anglers and kids to have a blast and catch some quality fish on light tackle, and a great time for the seasoned fly angler to chase permit with a fly rod.
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