There’s no doubt my two favorite times for kayak fishing in the beautiful Florida Keys are spring and fall. As is true with most hunting and fishing endeavors, these two transitional seasons are times of heightened activity in the animal kingdom, and this holds true in our corner of the world as well. Our “winter” in the Keys was a bit cooler than normal, sending water temps down into the low 60s, and many days were just too cool and windy to find many of our finned friends. But the flip side of this is that once the water warms up, the fish are frisky and anxious to get back in the shallows. As I write this (in early February) the water has climbed into the mid 70s and yesterday I saw at least 75 permit in shallow water throughout the middle of the day!
Spring offers a true cornucopia for the kayak angler. Most of our winter species are still around. Sea trout, yellow jacks, large jack crevalle, cero mackerel, monster barracuda, large snapper, large porgies and even a few bluefish and pompano are all within paddling distance. Year-round resident lemon sharks, bonnethead sharks, and blacktip sharks are plentiful and aggressive. And the “rockstar” fish of the flats start showing in good numbers as the water temps climb. Of course, I’m talking about tarpon, bonefish, and permit. So, whatever your preferred species might be, it’s likely to be around during these warm-up months of spring.
Another natural factor that aids the springtime bite is the rising water. If you’ve been around in the winter months, you may have noticed that water levels can be amazingly low, leaving some areas completely high and dry for extended periods. This is a normal occurrence in January and February. But water levels climb during the spring, and the tides get stronger as well, pushing more bait around, and sending our fishy friends up into the shallows in search of a meal or a resting spot.
Since there are so many different types of fish you might want to target on a given day here, I get a lot of questions from kayak anglers about what kind of tackle to use. A kayak has limited space for gear, so having versatile setups really helps. With spinning gear, I use two basic rigs.
Setup #1 is a rod rated 8-17lbs and a reel loaded with 200 yards of 10lb braided line. This is a great rig for your small to medium-sized food fish - snapper, porgy, yellow jacks, mackerel, etc. This is also an excellent rig for bonefish and permit. Normally I would tie on about 4 feet of 20lb fluorocarbon leader (maybe 15lb on calm days with super clear water), then my lure or hook. For versatility, a tan 1/4oz bucktail jig tipped with a fingernail-sized bit of shrimp is hard to beat. If you want to target toothy guys like barracuda or mackerel, add about 4 inches of #5 wire, then tie on a 1/4oz spoon. You can switch these two lures back and forth and catch a LOT of species this way, all on one rig.
Setup #2 is a rod rated 12-20lbs and a reel loaded with 200 yards of 20lb braided line. This is for the bigger guys like sharks and tarpon, and also when fishing structure like mangroves, bridges, and patch reefs where you need some extra muscle to get the fish away from structure quickly to avoid entanglements and break offs. Again, fluorocarbon leader is the ticket in our clear water. The thickness of your leader will vary depending on species you’re after, but 30lb or 40lb will work in most situations, and, of course, you’ll need to add some wire if you’re after sharks. For the tarpon and sharks I like larger hook sizes - around 4/0; the wide gap seems to get better hook-ups with these species. For the food fish, I stick to smaller hooks - #1, 1/0 or 2/0 - since the bigger hooks can sometimes make the fish suspicious. And, if they’re being picky, you can always take the leader thickness down to 20lb, 15lb, or even 12lb.
Spring has sprung, so if you need advice or would like me to take you out and show you what our waters can offer the kayak angler, visit my website, text me, email, or call, and I’ll help you
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