I feel the Keys are a relatively safe place to paddle and fish. Threats to your well-being are few. Thanks to the shallow shelf that comprises the inshore sea bottom of the Florida Keys, conditions usually range from tolerable to absolutely sublime. But, a recent encounter with a juvenile alligator certainly caused me to pause and think…
I was in my kayak, fishing a remote, leeward shoreline NE of Big Pine Key on Memorial Day and had hooked 3 small tarpon on fly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the water, and a young, slender gator about 3 feet long was swimming in my general direction. I watched (and took some pics and video) as he swam back and forth in front of me, occasionally stopping to look in my direction. What was strange to me, is that most wild animals, especially young ones, will take the first opportunity to get away from humans. But, this guy didn’t have a care in the world, and, eventually, he settled into a spot about 15 feet away from my anchored kayak. The tarpon I was targeting were still actively rolling, so I made a cast with my fly. The gator got excited by this and headed in the general direction of the fly, at which point I yanked the fly out of the water and dropped it behind my yak, well out of reach of both the gator and the tarpon. The gator’s next move was to swim directly at the kayak (something he had not done yet) at a medium speed. I set down my fly rod, picked up my push pole, and intended to give him a sharp thump on the snout if he got too close. When he saw the tip of the push pole moving in his direction, he lunged forward and CHOMPED on the pole! He then resumed swimming back and forth at his original 15’ distance. I suspect this guy had been given food by another boater (a really, really bad idea--not to mention, illegal), and now associates boats and humans with food. Having plenty of other places to fish, I moved out of the area. But, it was a reminder that we are out in the WILD, and need to remain extremely cognizant of our surroundings in our piscatorial pursuits!
The last week of July is lobster mini-season. I’ll spare you my rant about what I think of this overblown, resource-destroying event. But, I will say be EXTRA cautious if you’re on the water that week, ESPECIALLY if you are in a small profile vessel like a kayak. It is, unquestionably, amateur hour for boating and diving. In fact, it might be a good week to visit friends and relatives up north, since the Keys will be overrun with inexperienced, adrenaline-pumped, alcohol-fueled powerboaters.
Summer is in full swing and with it comes some terrific flats fishing opportunities for the kayak angler. Hot, sticky days with light winds become the norm in July and August. The giant, migratory tarpon have moved on for the most part, but the small to medium size poons are around, and usually showing themselves by rolling to grab a mouthful of air in the warmer, oxygen-depleted water, particularly around sunrise. Bones will be feeding, especially on a cool, incoming tide in the morning, and late in the afternoon. Permit, being the most temperature tolerant of the three species, will be roaming the deeper flats and occasionally poking their tails up as they dig a crab or clam off the sea floor. The calmer conditions make it easier to see fish in the water, and also make it easier to see wakes and tails at quite a distance. But, realize it works both ways. The fish can see and hear you more easily in the lighter conditions. Maximum stealth is required to fish the flats in the summer, so spend some time working on your paddling and poling technique to make your approach as silent as possible.
As always, if you need help in learning to fish the Keys from a kayak, contact me and we will plan our day on the water!
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