Spring On The Flats

by Capt. Mike Bartlett

Spring On The Flats

Springtime!  Finally!  Usually sometime during January I start looking forward to March and April.  I have had enough of cold weather, wind, cold fronts and tough fishing.  Don't get me wrong; when the weather is good, I love it.  Fishing is stellar and the air temperature is perfect.  But, I long for those hot days, with tarpon all around and permit and bonefish, working the flats.

Mid-February through April is one of my favorite stretches of time to be fishing the flats and backcountry of the lower Florida Keys.  We still have all the winter species around, such as jacks and big barracudas; the premier flats species, permit and bonefish, are just about everywhere; and schools of big tarpon are starting to push through.  What's not to love?

There is some fantastic tarpon fishing happening now and, depending on how one wants to fish for the Silver King, will determine how and when we fish for them.  The early morning and nighttime tarpon bite is incredible these days, but not always very practical for the fly-rodder.  Working lures or drifting live bait through the many channels of the backcountry is typically a bit more efficient than constantly casting a heavy fly rod.

For the fly-rodder though, laid up fish found in the backcountry can be sight cast to in just a few feet of water.  In this situation, tarpon will be somewhat picky about what is in front of them, so a small fly will be a quieter presentation and can be worked into the feed zone of a tarpon for a longer period of time.

Now, these are not steadfast rules, of course.  One can pursue tarpon in either case--with fly or spin tackle. It’s just a matter of efficiency and practicality.  Some days it works out really well, no matter what is used.  I would say the most important part is being where the fish are and having good opportunities. The rest will take care of itself.

Now that we are done talking tarpon fishing, early spring on the flats of Key West is mostly about permit.  These next several weeks we can find permit on just about any flat at any time.  They are, fortunately for us, a little more resilient to weather changes than tarpon and bonefish.  We will still experience a couple cold fronts that will chase tarpon away for a few days, but permit will be right back on the flats in a day or two once the weather settles.

I really like the afternoons for permit this time of year--especially days with a light southeast wind and a sunny sky.  This is the perfect recipe for some great permit fishing. When these conditions follow a cool spell, it’s like an invitation to an open bar and everyone will be showing up!

Another awesome aspect about early spring flats fishing is it is a great time to get a flats grand slam.  This consists of landing a tarpon, permit and bonefish in the same day. This becomes a real possibility if we can get the tarpon early in the day.  If I have a fly angler, I will focus on permit next because they will be the toughest of the three to catch on fly, and then hope to find some bonefish along the way.  I want to get as many opportunities at permit as we can.  With spin anglers, I prefer to get the bonefish after our tarpon.  Then, I am super confident we will get the permit to complete the slam or spend all night trying!

Early spring is an awesome time to be fishing the flats and backcountry of Key West. The weather is normally really good, and very comfortable temperature wise, for our northern friends who may still be in the cold.  On days when the weather, tides, moon and sun are all in our favor, it will be some of the best fishing you will ever experience. Whether you’re looking for a fun, relaxing day of fishing, or a die-hard fly-rodder chasing a grand slam, early spring is one of the best times of the year on the flats of Key West.




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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