Fall on the Flats

by Capt. Mike Bartlett

Fall on the Flats

Summer went by really quickly this year it seemed. Lots of good fishing and I did quite well catching lobsters the handful of times I went. I even shot a couple of nice hogfish the day after the lobster mini-season. 
All in all, it was a good summer on the flats and in the water.

So far this fall, fishing for bonefish on the flats has been great! A few days with morning low tides and flat calm conditions, I found schools of tailing bonefish. Bonefish are a little tougher to catch when they are that shallow and the water is slick, but a well-placed bait or fly will get devoured quickly, or will blow the whole school of bonefish off the flat. My anglers had plenty of the latter. Even so, it’s so cool just to witness bonefish doing their thing. It’s just like everything you have ever read about or seen on a fishing show!

So now that we are well into autumn and hurdling toward the ‘frigid’ months of winter here in the Keys, fishing on the flats will change a bit. Last year, winter was late and very mild, which kind of complicated fishing for us; at least what we have normally been accustomed to. So, barring a repeat of last year, here is about what to expect as we head into the coolest part of the year.

First, the bonefish and permit fishing on the flats will still be excellent; we just have to get the right weather and conditions. The first few weeks should be fine, but as we get deeper into winter, when the cold fronts get stronger and the air and water abruptly cools, these fish will be absent from the flats until it starts to warm back up to their liking.

These stronger cold fronts, however, will have a positive effect on the winter fishing on the flats and in the backcountry waters. Those big barracudas we love so much will move onto the flats and there will be plenty of them. For those who have not tangled with a four-foot barracuda on light tackle, there are not too many other fish quite as exciting.

We will also have a big spike in the jack population as the water cools. We can find big jacks on the flats following stingrays and sometimes following sharks. The backcountry channels and basins will get loaded up with them. And because they are so aggressive, willing to eat anything that moves, the top water action is incredible. Poppers and big surface flies get the best chases and eats.

The aforementioned species are the main players on the flats during the next few months. Barracudas and permit are the primary species I will sight fish for on the flats most days. With the number of jacks that are around, I usually have my anglers cast poppers across channels as we move from flat to flat. If the weather is right and the water is warm enough, I will be ready for bonefish as well. And, if it has been calm and warm for a few days in a row, there will usually be some tarpon moving around the backcountry basins and they are usually looking to eat.

Hopefully this winter will be a bit closer to normal than last year. I really enjoy fishing the flats and backcountry these days just for the variety of fish that are present. It’s always fun putting lots of fish in the boat. I will forever and always love sight fishing on the flats, no matter the outcome of each day, but it sure is a nice change of pace to have a little easy fishing now and again.


Capt. Mike Bartlett
Capt. Mike Bartlett

Author

Capt. Mike Bartlett runs shallow water sight fishing charters for tarpon, bonefish, permit, barracudas and sharks in Key West. Reach him at 305-797-2452 or on the web at www.keywestflats.net



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