It’s now the beginning of the winter season in Key West and the holidays are just around the corner. Cooler, shorter days bring on a change in our fishery. As stronger cold fronts are able to push through the Keys, they will bring lots of baitfish to the area. As the baitfish move in so do the predators that feed upon them.
In the backcountry basins we will see an increase in the numbers of jacks, sea trout, redfish, ladyfish, mackerel, even bluefish. Of course with all these different species and baitfish present, plenty of sharks will be around to keep things in check. This is fun fishing for me and for my clients who come down this time of year. It’s a nice alternative when the weather is less than ideal for sight fishing the flats.
On the flats, big jacks can be found cruising with stingrays and big barracudas will start showing up more. Permit and bonefish are always the primary targeted species barring any cold fronts that will keep them off the flats for a few days. This is also the time year I start to look for redfish on the flats. Since redfish can tolerate cooler water, they provide another option for those cool mornings after a cold front to sight fish the flats.
November can also be a pretty good time for tarpon. Tarpon can usually be found in deeper water with some opportunities to find them in the shallows if we get a spell of warm, calm weather. Fishing for tarpon this time of year is an opportunistic endeavor. When the conditions are right they will show up in good numbers first in deeper water like Key West Harbor and the many channels in the area. If those conditions persist for a few days they will move into the shallows where we can sight fish for them with fly rods.
One of the coolest things that happens down here, that I unfortunately have only done a couple of times, is cast netting pilchards that can be found by the ton on and near the flats. After your livewell is literally stuffed with bait, take them offshore and live chum to bring fish, preferably blackfin tuna, close to the boat. I’ve watched guys out there in center consoles toss out a bait net full of pilchards and the water instantly boils near their boat. Their anglers cast a couple baits in with the activity and are instantly hooked up. It is amazing to watch those guys do their thing.
If the tuna bite is slow offshore, you can take all your new friends back to the reef and chum up all sorts of stuff, like snappers, bonitos and mackerel. Everything in the water enjoys a nice shiny pilchard, helplessly swimming around the ocean, easy for the taking.
This is just the beginning of winter down here in Key West. We will have all these different fishing opportunities in the backcountry and on the flats for the next few months when spring sets in again and we get back to chasing tarpon. The main objective is to have fun on the water, as it should be everyday. We can be purists and fly fish for permit and bonefish on the flats, but if conditions dictate otherwise, breakout the spinning rods, grab some bait and have some fun bending rods.
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