Thanks to a strong blast of winter hitting most of the continental U.S. last month, the annual migration of snowbirds to the Keys is well underway. Welcome! Or for those returning, welcome back! Anyone who has spent time fishing in the Florida Keys soon realizes this area is an outstanding fishery. Two of the primary reasons are the incredible diversity of species (around 250) and the many methods of fishing practiced here. From catching grunts off a dock, to trolling the Gulfstream for blue marlin and everything in between, the Keys offer myriad choices for the fishing enthusiast. Of course my favorite method of piscatorial pursuit is from a kayak in shallow water. This month I thought I’d lay out a general fishing calendar for the inshore kayak angler covering the winter/spring time period, also known around here as the dry season. Keep in mind that fish don’t read calendars! Water temps and wind direction are the primary factors affecting fishing no matter what month it is. But these monthly guidelines will get you pretty close most years.
November/December The big variable for a kayak angler during these months will be the frequency and severity of the cool fronts that start to push in from the north. Usually these fronts are infrequent enough to leave several great weather days in between. As to fishing, the main thing to keep an eye on is the water temperature. You can look at weather buoy data for a general idea, but locally, temps can vary considerably from one spot to the next and from one day to the next as well. Carrying a pool thermometer is a cheap way to get a local reading. If you can find water in the mid 70s and up, the “big three” (bonefish, tarpon, and permit) should still be cooperative, especially a few days after a front passes and the weather stabilizes. But as the days get shorter and water temps continue to trend downward, these three sport fish will thin out, and it’s time to change targets. Snapper fishing picks up nicely.
Grouper on the patches and around structure make great targets. And some new players emerge; speckled seatrout, big barracuda, cero mackerel, redfish, ladyfish, blacktip sharks, and marauding schools of large jack crevalles are all pushed south into the Keys’ relatively warmer water.
January/February These are potentially the toughest months for a kayak angler, as wind becomes a factor, and the wise kayak angler will take time to plan their route with this in mind. But all is not lost! One tried and true method is to start your day paddling into the wind, so you can use the breeze to help push you back to the launch after you’re tired. Another option is to get a friend with a boat to taxi you and your yak out back (Gulf side) and drop you off. Then you can fish your way back with the wind helping. Another idea is to fish out front (ocean side). Due to the orientation of the Lower Keys and the prevailing north to northeast winds, the south side of the islands will have a lot of days quite fishable in a kayak, even when the backcountry is blown out. Drifting the channels and throwing a gold spoon can yield some cero macks for dinner, plus big barracuda and jacks for fun. Fishing for snapper around the bridge pilings is usually good, keeps you out of the wind, and provides the makings of a nice fish cookout for your friends, while you brag about how you did it all in your little plastic human-powered boat!
March/April These months are a transition period and can result in terrific fishing because the winter species haven’t quite left and the spring/summer species begin to arrive. Water temps will dictate how and when this progresses. Once again, the biggest potential challenge facing kayak anglers in March is wind, but usually the wind is more easterly and you can find lee shorelines to fish. Redfish, small sharks and barracuda will oblige by getting far up into the mangroves where power boats can’t go and the water is reasonably calm and fishable. You can still find shelter from the breeze around the bridges to fish for snapper, jacks, and bigger sharks. April typically has the winds backing off and water temps getting high enough for bonefish and tarpon to show in good numbers. And March through early April is historically the best time to target permit on the flats. They are in a “pre-spawn” feeding mode and much more likely to make a mistake (also known as eating a fly!). Patch reef fishing is still good, though sometimes you’ll be sharing a spot with someone since it is the height of tourist season.
If you have more questions about how to pursue fish in a kayak in the Lower Keys, bribe me with lunch and I’ll help you get rigged and ready on your self-directed fishing adventures. Or if you want to hire an experienced guide to show you around our fishery, shoot me a text, ring my phone, or drop me an email and we’ll pick a day to bend a rod!
Comments will be approved before showing up.