Every year is different; this is definitely going to be the theme for 2018, especially when it comes to fishing in the Florida Keys. As I am sure you are aware, Hurricane Irma was a game changer in every sense of the word. Its impacts can be felt on land as well as on the water. I wouldn’t say Irma changed the Keys, but I would say she tweaked it a little. By this I mean channels have shifted and gotten shallower or deeper, and flats have had areas of grass removed and even shifted a little, forcing the water to move across the flats differently than before. Some of the local shallow water wrecks have disappeared and new ones have been discovered. Creeks are full of new deadfall giving game fish and bait new places to hide. In Key Largo, we experienced no major damage, so the flats, creeks, and channels are pretty much the same. But this changes as you head south--especially in Big Pine and Marathon. All these things give anglers new opportunities to relearn what they have previously learned, and is an excellent excuse to get out on the water. (Like you need one.)
March and April pretty much mark the beginning of tarpon season. Last year was a warm one, and this year is looking similar. I have already found scattered schools of big tarpon cruising the oceanside in February, in addition to a few schools of permit (LOOKIN’ GOOD!). Tarpon start showing at the usual places in March, then flood in as we get into late April--this is how last year went. There is some great bonefishing to be had within a stone’s throw of the best local tarpon spots. This is where it is important to know how the fish move on and off the flat with the tide. Additionally, how the fish may now follow different paths depending on the contours of the flat and how the movement of water has been affected.
For those trips when the clients ask to catch something big, shark fishing is a pretty safe bet, and a great fallback position. This can be done with spin or fly tackle and, let me tell you, fishing for sharks with fly tackle is some of the most fun you can have with your pants on, legally. The fun starts with catching bait. Barracuda make the best bait for shark fishing, but they need to be at least 15 inches and no more than 36 inches--2 per person or 6 per vessel, and one fish may be over 36 inches. So, if you are looking to chum heavy, then you will need some bonito, amberjack, or tuna carcasses to add to the mix. He who chums heaviest WINS. Typically, you put out your stringer and start drifting to create a chum slick. After a time, sharks will begin showing up in your chum slick. Then, it’s on! Lemon sharks are the most common, along with black tips and bull sharks. But, you never know. There is always a possibility for a tiger or hammerhead to show up.
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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