Spring is here and that means being steadily busy for the next few months in the Florida Keys. It’s time to get to the grind and make some money if you are a charter captain! Usually, from about mid-February through mid-June, most fishing guides down here will be out on the water just about every day that they want to be. It also means a change of the seasons for us, as things go from ‘cool’ to ‘warm’, which is about the only change we really have down here.
Tarpon are showing up bigtime in March, which are the number one sought after game fish for most seasoned anglers and tourists alike. This year, we had a very warm February, so a lot of these fish have been around for a little while. Well, even throughout the winter there are a fair number around. But, when the water temperatures are in the low 70s or below, they just aren’t very active, or move out to deeper water to stay warm when it gets very cold. Fishing has been off and on for them, which is usually the case in the early season. You can still get some cold fronts or heavy wind days that drop the water temperatures and make the tarpon get lockjaw, or leave altogether. Though, you can also get those slicked off calm days where they show up in droves and, on occasion, are pulling you out of the boat! I definitely prefer the latter...
Most of the tarpon I’ve caught early season have been of the larger variety, many of them over 100 lbs. In fact, one of my anglers, Caroline, who was visiting with her husband Doug, landed a fish that was near 200 pounds! It was a slick, calm day after we had been hit by a mild front and the water temperatures were just getting into the lower realm of where tarpon are thought to be a possibility (around 75 degrees). We hadn’t seen any fish, and I honestly was hoping to just catch them a few sharks, but, as we laid out our third bait, we hooked this massive fish! It screamed out 150 yards of line as we gave chase, jumped several times thrashing violently, and finally settled down. Luckily, the fish kind of wore itself out with the insane run and jumps, and we were able to get her boatside in about 20 minutes. We caught several sharks, a big sawfish, and a bunch of Spanish mackerel on this day as well.
The day before we had a good day too, despite some nasty conditions with a 20-mph west wind, landing about 10 snook up in the creeks of the Everglades, and our limit of mangrove snappers. The last three days, I had the same anglers as well--John and Jan down from Pennsylvania. Jan was the big fisher person, and wanted to experience some of the different fishing options the Florida Keys backcountry had to offer. On the first day, we had pretty flat, calm conditions, so we went into the Gulf and caught a bunch of Spanish mackerel. We looked for some tripletail afterwards, but had no luck with that, never even seeing a fish! We ran way back off the mainland of the Everglades, and ended up finding a bunch of tarpon up there, likely fresh in from the Gulf. We spent the rest of the day out there, catching a couple nice tarpon around 80 lbs. each, a hammerhead shark, and several blacktip sharks.
The next day, the winds were blowing 20 mph out of the north, but we caught a bunch of sea trout in the morning. Then we ran into the creeks in the backcountry and caught a handful of snook, a nice redfish, and got a few jumps out of a smaller 40 lb. tarpon, on light tackle, which was fun.
Their last day, it was howling 30 mph out of the east and I was expecting to cancel, however they wanted to try and go, so we decided to do a half-day. We had some good fishing locally around some of the mangrove islands, getting our limit of mangrove snapper, including several nice backcountry ‘jumbos’ on some cut mullet strips. They enjoyed a nice fresh catch lunch later in the afternoon.
This goes to show that springtime offers many options for anglers down here. And even if conditions aren’t great with the wind (as they often are), you can still get out and have some fun on the water. The Florida Keys are a special place in that regard!
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