Alot happens during this time of year here in the Upper Keys. Daytime temperatures start to diminish, schools of bait begin to show up in numbers, and just about everything you could want is in season. Throw in the occasional passing tropical system and the strong King tide we experience every September and its fall fishing at its finest. Last year our summer tried to hang on as long as it could here in Florida, only giving us a break from the heat about half way through the month of October. Previous years have seen the arrival of our cold fronts much earlier in September so this year is anybody’s guess. Typically the earlier the cold fronts arrive the better the fishing will be.
If you have read any of my articles over the years covering this time of year then you know that this is my favorite time of the year to fish for several reasons. The King tide we experience moves a lot of water on and off our local flats making for perfect conditions to hunt permit and bonefish on fly or spin tackle. This can also be experienced in the backcountry as well, moving good amounts of bait through out Florida Bay. Making any point, bottleneck, or shoreline with structure prime ambush spots for snook, jacks, redfish, tarpon, seatrout, grouper, and sharks. During these two months we also see our annual migration of small finger mullet, which move south along both the East and West coasts. Pretty much everything eats these tiny morsels and is not shy about doing so. Schools of mullet can be seen getting attacked by big tarpon, jacks, barracuda, and some of the largest snappers both mangrove and cubera I see all year.
I get several backcountry trips these months where my anglers want to solely target snook since their season opens September 1st at midnight. Snook have a really hard time passing up fresh live baits like pinfish, pilchards or finger mullet. Most days finding the bait is easy but others it seems impossible, either the baits are way too small, too big, or non-existent. These are the days when artificial lures earn their money. Some of my favorites include top-water lures black or white, 7-10 inch long Hogy soft baits rigged weedless, and the classic ¼-½ ounce Johnson weedless spoon silver or black.
One issue I run into from time to time is that when you find snook in numbers you will also find the sharks. Mostly angry lemon sharks with the occasional bull shark. Once we lose one or two snook I leave the area and encourage others to do the same. Sharks are really good at their job and even if they don’t get your fish before it gets to the boat, they usually do after it has been released. I have witnessed sharks chasing snook into thick cover in impossibly shallow water, and even under the boat. I have hooked these sharks, fought, and released them only to watch them come back and wait for their next meal. I have had this happen with snook, redfish, permit, and bonefish; in the backcountry, oceanside flats and wrecks found offshore. I really encourage you to move to another spot and not give these toothy predators a hankering for whatever you are targeting.
Night trips are a great option for fishing in more comfortable conditions than during the hottest parts of the day. Species like snook, snapper, and tarpon feed more actively at night and are more willing to take bait with out suspicion. Tides are important for this type of fishing so talk with your guide about optimal times to fish at night. Then be prepared for the answer. Example: I had a client that had to catch his first tarpon, he had been on other trips where they found fish but never landed one. He wanted me to guarantee him a fish. After a quick look at the tides I told him to meet me at Dove Creek Lodge at 2. He was excited until I told him AM. He began to explain that he was on vacation, and I reminded him that he wanted a guarantee. We fished from 2-6am, hooked 6 tarpon and landed 3.
For those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish often!
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