November and December are busy months here in the Upper Keys, and for all the right reasons--just about everything you could want in the backcountry is open and available. We begin to experience some much stronger cold fronts that signal the beginning of our shrimp runs. Plus, our local snowbird population returns with stories of their summer travels. Along with all this activity, the fishing opportunities are endless, with weather conditions determining where and when you can fish comfortably.
The important dates to remember during these next few months are November 1st, in which snook season ends for 2016, and January 1st, which is when grouper season closes. In the backcountry, the snook fishing has been solid with plenty of fish caught during our fall season. Live bait is the thing to have when targeting snook and, over the fall, we have seen lots of bait in the form of pilchards, spanish sardines, pinfish, and finger mullet. November is also the beginning of our dry season, a time in which we usually see a diminishing amount of rainfall, both over the mainland and here in the Keys. This translates to every run out from the mainland becoming a hot spot for fish, as all the bait is flushed into Florida Bay. Species like redfish, snook, jacks, black drum, snappers, and sharks, just to name a few, can be found with consistency. Grouper in the backcountry depend heavily on the water temperatures; every winter is different, some are strong and others weak, in regards to the temperatures. If we have several strong cold fronts, then the grouper will move into the backcountry in greater numbers. These backcountry brawlers can put your tackle to the test, but are a welcome surprise when looking for dinner.
As I mentioned before, we will begin to see our first shrimp runs as we get into November. Every year people ask me when the best time to go and net shrimp is. Traditionally, the best time is right after the arrival of a cold front, with strong northern winds over the period of a full moon. However, I have seen this not be the case with the most impressive shrimp run I have encountered happening one year in April, during a new moon phase in 80 degree water temperatures. So, I am not the authority on shrimp runs. If you are, please contact me and share your wisdom. I love shrimp and so does everything else around here. A lot of the flys I have my clients throw are basic shrimp patterns, both on the ocean side flats, as well as the backcountry.
During the days when the wind is blowing out of the north 20-30mph, I encourage my clients to take a ride as we trailer over to Flamingo and spend the day “fishing the dirty”. By this, I mean the dirty waters of Everglades National Park. Most days I will traverse the Bay from Key Largo or Islamorada and fish. The big advantage of trailering is you avoid the rough ride across the Bay and you get more fishing time in; with the only drawback being the almost 2 hour drive to Flamingo. When “fishing the dirty”, a simple knocker rig with live or dead shrimp will cover almost every species you could want to target. Species like black drum, redfish, snook, sheepshead, snapper, and jacks make regular appearances during a day. While this is great rod bending action, some days we get runs of large black drum up to 30lbs that can change the mentality of everyone onboard. Just remember while these big black drum are fun to catch, you always release them as they are usually packed with worms.
The 5th annual Cheeca Lodge All American Backcountry Fishing Tournament will begin November 10th through Saturday, November 12th, 2016. This is an all release tournament for tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook, and redfish. All proceeds will benefit the Guides Trust Foundation, a local organization that assists Florida Keys fishing guides in times of need, in addition to awarding scholarships to local students. For more information about the tournament rules or to acquire additional entry forms contact Lisa Thornhill (305) 517-4512 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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