The gravitational pull of the moon makes a lot of weird things happen. I guess if you were someplace in farm country it might be considered a harvest moon. Around these parts it means something different. Big tides.
From the point my son could talk clearly he knew the big moon meant there was a big tide. What he does not quite understand yet is the ebb and flow of the big tide is a draw for fish on the flats of the Florida Keys.
September is a great time to fish in the Keys, especially on the flats. The strong tide is particularly good for permit and bone fishing. They love it because the food is abundant and as it rolls off the flats on an outgoing tide they are sitting on the edge with their mouths open.
One of my favorite things it do this time of year is wade fish in the late afternoon or evening. When the tide falls to the low around evening and the winds are calm, that is the time to head out into the backcountry along the Gulf edge and go walk about on your favorite flat.
I’ve been out there quite a few times over the years and sometimes I don’t even cast, I just watch. Life on the flats is such a cool thing. There are birds that are hunting for small baitfish in the shallows, birds flying overhead, the occasional bonnet head shark waggling through with his dorsal fin exposed giving away his position and of you are lucky you might see a push of bones waking onto the flat.
I’m not sure if the term walk softly and carry a big stick came from wade fishing but it certainly applies. You do have an advantage being on foot but be quiet. Most often the flats you are able to walk on are “crunchy” meaning there’s some coral rock or shells you need to step on or over and it will make a little noise.
We mainly fly fish on these wading trips. It’s really the best way to do it and much cleaner. A good friend was telling me a story the other day about how he used to wade on some flats and carry shrimp in a zip loc bag. He said one day he found himself surrounded by juvenile lemon sharks because they could smell his bag-o-shrimp. So many fish have a keen sense of smell that unless you wan to chum them in its not advised to make your pocket a chum bag.
Fly fishing on foot is a personal experience. Once you know what to look for you can head out on your own. Stick a few extra flies in your cap and some tippet in your pocket and head out for a walk. For me it’s a time to just go blank. I’m not so crazed that I get mad if I don’t catch a fish. There are dudes like that. I take I the whole scene and appreciate where I live completely.
Take advantage of this special kind of Key West fishing experience if you can. It will instill in your memory for years to come.
The offshore boats were busy today. With the show of the full moon it appears to have done the trick and turned on the bite at least for today!
Capt. Keith Herbert reported a great catch of tuna, bonito and wahoo! This is a sure sign for us that fall,is quickly approaching. The pilchards can be found in their usual areas and the pelicans are diving on them to give away their location.
The mahi bite has slowed down and it seems like you need to go pretty far to get one or two small chicken size dolphin. Once in a while there may be a larger one and there is usually a frigate bird circling overhead.
Frigate birds are amazing creatures. They can fly for a very long time without the need to land. Their wingspan is 6 foot across making it one of the largest birds. They are stewards of the sea and can be found hunting from high above the ocean.
The yellowtail bite can be great this time of year as long as there is some current beyond the reef. Of there is none or its going the wrong way, you might as well fish for something else.
It’s still a great time to get out and get in the water for lobster. The season lasts until March 31st but soon you will probably need a wetsuit to dive. At least us thin blooded Keys residents do. The water will also get potentially rougher, making the visibility poor.
Fall is one of my most favorite times to fly fish offshore. With live bait you have am advantage of being able to male the fish come to you. We go fly fishing for tuna when it’s not too rough and with a couple of wells full of bait you can make the ocean erupt with busting fish if you are in the right spot.
The inshore fishing should continue to be good as we come off the full moon. The only issue right now is the cloud cover is making it difficult to sight fish.
The summer season is drifting away and the tourists are gathering for their yearly migration south to the Florida Keys for winter. To us charter boat captains this can mean only one thing. It’s time to drag the livewells out of the shed and start getting ready for another live bait season. As much as I look forward to pitching live pilchards to tunas, I am not crazy about all the extra work involved to make it happen. I guess if it was easy it wouldn’t be a challenge. There are some things you can do and some you must do to make live baiting a success. The three most common means of obtaining live bait are with a cast net, a “Sabiki Rig” or a fist full of cash. If you choose to do it yourself , you are going to need a lot of stuff. Cast nets are exspensive and usually one net is not going to be good enough to catch everything. You have to match your net to the bait you are throwing on. Every guide has at some point thrown a perfect circle on a school of bait that was just a tiny bit too small for the net and ended up with what is known as a “Christmas tree”. The bait gets their gills caught in the mesh and are stuck. This is a potential showstopper. The net is now useless until it is cleared of all the hung up bait. This can take a while and the bait is no longer alive, epic fail…
The Sabiki rig is a chain of very small hooks, each with a piece of synthetic fish skin. It is weighted and cast near bouys and structure to catch small bait fish such as herring and small jacks. This method is very effective for catching “hook baits” or baits that will actually be put on the hook instead of used for live chum. Generally they are a little larger. It is always a good idea to keep a dehooker to remove the bait from the hook without touching it. This adds to the baits longevity and liveliness. Make sure you keep cast nets and sabiki rigs on oppisite ends of the boat. Getting a sabiki tangled in a cast net would give a basket weaver nightmares.
Capt. Vinny getting ready to cast net live bait in Key West
The third method is to purchase your bait from a bait boat which is expensive and sketchy because you are at the bait mans mercy. If he has promised it to someone or doesn’t have it, you are out of luck. I have seen a dozen goggle eyes sell for more than $150.00 dollars on the morning of a tournament. One Barracuda can chew a large hole in your wallet at that rate.
Now that we have some bait where do we put them? The livewell is a signature contraption which is nearly an artform to many of us. Everyone has their favorite setup and of course the other guy’s well is junk. The one thing we will all agree on is FLOW. You need lots of water. I cant stress that enough. This is one area where size really does matter. Big pumps and big wells with big hoses and big everything. If you buy something for a livewell, get the biggest one they make. Get it ? At bare minimum a 50 gal. well will hold enough bait to get you by for a half day or so. An 1100 gallon per hour pump should be enough and a 2 inch overflow will exhaust the water pretty well. How you set it up is something only you can decide. Every boat and well are different. The best method is trail and error. It can be frustrating.
You’ll need something to hold your bait in while you are at the dock. This requires a very large pen usually made from mesh and pvc pipe. They are cumbersome and awkward but until we develop a better system for keeping upwards of 2000 very scared baitfish alive overnight without running pumps on the boat all night, you are gonna need some zip ties and a hacksaw…
Why do we go through all of this aggrevation to have live bait on our trips? Thats easy, because it works. Watching a sailfish eat a live bait on the surface is something few get to see but will never forget. Tuna exploding behind the boat on the live chum is absolutely insane. Its what keeps us guides going. The question is always asked, “Do you ever get tired of fishing” Its things like I just described that make the answer a definite “NO”.
If you are planning to charter a boat while you are in Key West and the captain has live bait for you, there was a lot of behind the scenes work that went into it. You can surely catch some good fish on dead bait but the live ones are fool proof. If they wont eat live bait then they just aren’t hungry. If you want to see it first hand , look me up. Otherwise, I hope to see you out there and good luck.
Yes it’s freaking hot outside. Probably hotter than the entire summer by far. I talk about it as if I’m not used to it but I am. I’m heading into my nineteenth year of loving the Lower Keys and by now I better be used to summer here. It’s actually a great secret for the locals. We get out, get in the water and go spear fishing and catch lobster. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it.
I did get a few minutes (more like a tease) on the bow over the weekend. Permit swimming and chowing on a beautiful backcountry flat and I come up short, cast after cast. Maybe it’s because my Key West fishing adventures have been so few these days, maybe it’s because I just plain suck.
So despite the warm steamy summer weather there have been some fish around. Permit and bonefish and some nice size tarpon (at least for the late summer months). So yay for the flats fishing this week! It’s even been a little windy which always helps when stalking permit on the flats. They are generally unsure of themselves on a regular basis so trying to sneak up on a permit when it’s flat calm is just flat out impossible. If you are going to try and go for permit on a calm breathless day, cast long and make that fly or crab land oh so soft! Oh and no rocking the boat, no farting, talking, and forget about cracking open that cooler for a snack. I’ve had permit run for the depths for each one of these scenarios (except the farting of course – I’m a lady).
I’m a big fan of the deep blue sea and these days its slim pickings. The best bet is to hit the rock piles and hard bottom in search of grouper or snapper. Some guys have been doing really well with the grouper catch in deeper water. Come the fall and a few cold fronts into our holiday season the grouper will move back in shallow which is also a great time to fish for them. Keep in mind that grouper season is closed part of the year here so check with the local FWC website (myfwc.com) for info.
Another great fishery that is a little more specialized is the swordfishing. There are not a ton of guys who do it and do it well. Some guys swear the full moon is the ticket, other guys say no. Some guys go during the day, some go at night. Something about being out floating in the abyss and being able to see the lights of Havana kind of freaks me out. But the bite can be amazing and the fight a great one (unless you are using an electric reel).
So that’s it for now. Get out on the flats, go wade in the early morning and evening when the tide is rising, head out deep for grouper and keep your lines tight!
Capt. Rush Maltz – Odyssea Sportfishing
Capt. Chris Trossett – Reel Fly Charters
Hurricane Hole Marina
There’s no secrets anymore in fishing. If it isn’t Facebook that ruins the surprise it’s YouTube, Twitter or Instagram. For whatever reason the coconut telegraph isn’t good enough for us anymore. So goes the palolo worm this past weekend. For some bizarre reason the darn things decided to make it more difficult and “hatch” on the incoming tide. Historically these little red energizer worms emerge from the coral rock sea bed and swim out to sea. Theoretically they are on a mission. Maybe to reproduce, maybe not. I don’t know the answer to that. For the last decade I’ve seem them on an outgoing tide in the evening with a full or new moon. The worm activity lasts three days and the tarpon are just plain crazy about eating these worms.
The tarpon are happy when they are eating worms. No jet ski, boat buzzing by or fly rider is going to scare these creatures away from their prize.
It’s an amazing site to see. Tarpon rolling and splooshing in every direction. It could quite possibly drive you mad to try and cast at one fish but that’s exactly what has to happen. The tarpon are so keyed in on these worms that if you are going to try and mimic one with a fly you better do it by putting the fly right in front of their face. Tarpon are opportunistic feeders. They sometimes will eat something just to get it out of their way.
Besides tarpon being keyed in on worms they will also feed on shrimp and small crabs during the daylight hours. This time of year during the full and new moon the tides are strong and water can drop out of an area quite quickly. This is when there can be another kind of hatch. It’s more like bait and shrimp dying from lack of oxygen and both tarpon and birds will capitalize on this action. It creates a feeding frenzy and tarpon keyed in on these hatches will also eat a fly.
We are already half way through June and this is the month to be here in the Keys for tarpon. Our fishery is always evolving and more flats action happens in the summer and fall these days. Come on down and give it a try!
Key West Fishing in May 2014
I’ve been a resident of the Lower Keys and Key West for nearly 18 years and I don’t remember it ever blowing this much in May. Being married to a shallow water fishing guide isn’t all that bad until the wind blows, or it rains, or the fish stop biting. There are probably more scenarios than that but the last couple of weeks the wind has been relentless. Winds topping 30mph aren’t exactly normal for March so why the heck is it so windy in MAY? Who knows?
It’s normally paradise this time of year. The tarpon are happy to swim up and down the ocean flats and frolic about in the harbor. They’ll play nice and eat a fly or even a diving plug. With this wind not only is it difficult to get out to the fish, it’s difficult to cast, to see and to fight a fish in rough water. When the National Weather Service repeats itself day after day to exercise caution you know it sucks to be in a boat out there.
So what if you want to still go fishing? After all you are on your vacation. There’s plenty to do in Key West if you want to stay on land but most of it involves eating and drinking (and then napping if you feel like it). Key West is a drinking town but if you still want to go fishing go for it! Just be prepared to work harder than normal with your guide if you are shallow water sight fishing. Be patient and understand that holding a 600-1000 lb boat in high winds totally sucks. It’s hard and your guide is doing it for you to catch fish. And if you are going to show your gratitude for his hard days of work, a pat on the back goes a long way but a generous tip will also help too.
If your after the big game fish well hold onto your lunch and your seat! Seas beyond the reef have been pretty sporty and not for the faint of heart. Going out on a larger sportfishing boat might be the best idea if you really, really can’t wait. Besides the mahi-mahi have been on the bite lately and there’s been some big boys caught up to 46- pounds off Key West. In addition to big dolphin there have been sailfish, blackfin tuna, marlin and wahoo to be had.
And the good news is the hell wind of May is supposed to go away… tomorrow! I’m skeptical but the nice thing about the Keys is one or two changes of the tide and things are back to normal. The water inshore becomes gin clear again, the fish get back to what they are supposed to do, tarpon in particular. And once again the grumpy fishing guides come back to center and all is good in the world once again.
Look for a possible Palolo Worm hatch next weekend with the new moon and the late outgoing tide. These worms “hatch” from hard coral bottom so they are mostly on the ocean side of the Keys. Popular places to find them are by Key West Harbor along Ft. Zach, White Street Pier and sometimes back by Fleming Key. A more popular spot is Bahia Honda Bridge. This can be a tarpon mecca during a worm hatch and its great fun. Boats are able to spread out a bit and when the fish are cooperating everyone is having fun.
It’s that time of year again, tarpon season. It’s not like the tarpon look at the calendar and on April 1st they start swimming past Key West or anything but this month marks some of the more concentrated migration of tarpon. There have already been tarpon swimming the Keys and giving some anglers a good bit of action in Key West Harbor and on the flats.
Tarpon for fly fisherman is one of the most sought after fish in the ocean. These prehistoric looking fish offer a display of gill-rattling acrobatics and the larger the fish the more epic the battle will be. Some of the craziest people even go to lengths to set world records on light tippet and gingerly fight a fish for 18- hours only to have it break off or straighten a perfectly good gaff.
Regardless,Florida Keys tarpon folks come from all over to get their fix of Florida Keys tarpon each year from late March through June. The shallow water flats fishing is such a visual rush with these giant fish in less than 4 feet of water swimming in schools.
The time has come at long last. The fish are swimming the ocean and settling in to the basins and under bridges. Get out there early to get a good spot. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to get too close to another guide. This is the time of year when tempers flair on the water. Flats guides spend their day pursuing tarpon in a few feet of water and poling hard. Last thing they need is some guy running right down the ocean running over all the fish. It happens daily. Fortunately the tarpon are more used to it than we think. Anyway, get to close and be prepared to get waved off, you might even get the “shrug” which basically means WTF in guide sign language. By best advice, apologize if you realize you are too close amd them move away swiftly.
One of the things that makes me laugh the most is that guides all where sun masks to protect from the elements. Thought to have been in disguise there are some bad words thrown from boat to boat. Only to find out its your buddy you are yelling at!
In any event, tarpon have turned a corner this weekend and will be the focus of oh so many anglers and guides for the next 8 weeks. I will be glad when its over!
Meanwhile the sane just go permit fishing and some big permit are making their way back to the flats. The spawn isn’t done yet but at least the fish are splitting their time.
We joined in the Old Wooden Bridge Kids Fishing Tournament today in Big Pine Key. There was a terrific turnout with more than 100 kids and their families. The bridge to No Name Key became a fun zone today for the children. Thanks to the Big Pine / Lower Keys Rotary and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department each child that registered received a free rod and reel combo. The entire event is just a lot of fun and kids 5 years to 12 years old are welcome to compete for great prizes.
There’s bait provided and families just need to bring extra hooks and sunscreen. All catches are recorded by volunteers and the longest fish is what will get you in the running for some great prizes.
Many thanks to all the men and women who make this all possible. We had a great time again this year!
Deep Sea Fishing off Key West has been pretty good in the Gulf this week. The hot bite is definitely the Kingfish. King Mackerel commonly known as kingfish are a terrific gamefish and are known to skyrocket out of the water in pursuit of live bait. When they are hooked they peel line off a reel like mad and put up a good fight. Our kings can range in size from a few pounds up to 70- pounds or more. Sometimes called “Smoker” kings, these fish are a great fish to smoke and make fish dip.
If you are down in the Keys give Smilin’ Bob’s Fish Dip a try. It’s delicious and has a recipe that has been perfected over the years. It’s made right here in the Keys on Summerland Key.
The Gulf also has some great snapper fishing in spots and there should always be a rod rigged for the magic cobia that shows up behind the boat.
The Atlantic off Key West offers some great yellowtail action just off the reef edge. A good deal of chum is involved in this type of fishing but it’s well worth it for some of the flag yellowtails we’ve seen out there this week. A bonito or two may show up as well. Keep the faith the tuna will be back soon. There are a few around but most of the action comes later in the spring out at the shrimp boats. Talk about a total blast! This is deep sea fishing at it’s best.
Spring will also be the time to look for tarpon in Key West Harbor and on the flats. The tarpon migration is one of the most anticipated seasons of the year here in the Keys. The tarpon may start to migrate as early as February and as late as June with some stragglers coming through the Keys into the last summer months.
This is a really fun event for kids 5 years old or more….
KIDS BRIDGE FISHING TOURNAMENT at the OLD WOODEN BRIDGE
Hosted by the Big Pine & Lower Keys Rotary Club and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the fun tournament is free for participants and family. Register between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., fishing is 10 a.m. until noon. Enjoy free shaved ice, hot dogs and drinks. Awards to be given for biggest fish in each age category, boys and girls: 5-8 years, and 9-12 years old. Please do not bring rods, reels or bait, they will be provided. Bring hooks and sinkers, sunscreen, hat and parent/guardian. Call to pre-register.
Contact: Holly at 305-879-6824
What’s Biting off Key West
The long anticipated for return of the Tarpon to Key West Harbor has actually occurred. A big school of the “Silver Kings” have moved into the Harbor and it looks like the journey from up north has them famished. There were a lot hooked in the early mornings throughout the outbound tide. Inbound tide appeared to close down a little bit however they were still rolling all over the harbor. The bite must enhance and continue as time endures.
Offshore we had the victorious return of the Wahoo. They have actually moved much further East this time and are not in such multitudes as the bite in Jan. A couple of Tuna and Sailfish were also caught. Trolling has actually been the approach of selection and the downrigger prevailed. Keep wire on those surface area rigs for the “Wolfpack” bite.
Our weather conditions in Key West today were perfect which provided us the chance to going into the gulf where the Kingfish were waiting. Lots of good sized Kings were on the step out there. It appeared East of Smith Shoal light was the very best of it. The Shrimp Boats are in very close and covered up with Bonitas. The Tunas are still out on the Atlantic side however it wont be long prior to they sign up with the Bonitas and nearly every various other types in the gulf behind the shrimp boats.
Tarpon in Key West Harbor
Inshore patch reefs were great today and given that the gin clear water on the reef made the bite tough out there, the patches were where its at for the snappers. Lots of Yellowtails and Lanes and a rather great catch of Muttons. The Kings are often visiting the patches to the West so hang a blue runner out there while you are snapper fishing and make certain you have some wood chips for the smoker cause a huge King will be along quickly.
As soon as once more today Key West fishing was outstanding and if this climate continues I see no reason for it to alter. Best of luck out there.
Capt. Vinny Argiro
1801 N. Roosevelt Blvd
Key West, Fl. 33040
There is still room in the 2014 Cuda Bowl which is scheduled for January 31st and February 1st at Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island.
The registration can be done online at www.cudabowl.com or you can come register at the Angling Company, 333 Simonton St, Key West on Thursday, January 30th at 6:30.
Space is limited to 25 boats so sign up early! Entry fee is only $200 for one angler, $50 more for an additional angler.
Trophies and prizes are awarded for top anglers and their guide in both spin and fly divisions, plus largest barracuda in both divisions.
For rules and other details about this catch and release barracuda tournament please visit the website.
The event is sponsored by The Florida Keys & Key West, Mustad, Montana Fly Company, Rio Products and meeting space is provided by the Angling Company in Key West.
This is not your typical scenario for January here in the Keys. The Christmas and New Year holiday was somewhat pleasant for our Key West weather but windy. Now as you can see from our radar the chance of rain is…. 100%!
I guess it may be better than snow but for fishing it’s no bueno.
The past week of fishing has been up and down. The offshore waters have a steady stream of activity. The reef fishing has been very good for yellowtail snapper and mackeral. Just a reminder that grouper season is now closed until May. It’s a bummer for some of our light tackle charter boats and for the boats that travel to the Dry Tortugas, but they make up for it with a variety of action with hard fighting mutton snapper, flag yellowtail and mangrove snapper on the patch reefs.
Mahi Mahi are still traveling through the offshore waters south of the Keys. They tend to move in closer to enjoy the abundance of bait on the reef later this month and into February.
Sailfish are always around in our waters. They turn on when the weather gets rough and sailfishing will tend to be good to excellent from now through April. There are several sailfish tournaments in the Keys. In our local waters off Key West is the Key West Sailfish Championship.
Key West Sailfish Championship
This four-day challenge is to offer up to $50,000 for first place prize, $15,000 and $10,000 to second- and third-place anglers, respectively. Early entry angler fee per angler is available. Visit website for details.
Contact: Mike Weinhofer 305-395-3474
The shallow Key West waters hold permit, sharks, barracuda, ladyfish, sea trout, large jack crevalle, and maybe a tarpon or two if the weather gets warm.
As for the next couple of days, don’t expect to be basking in the glory of our Florida sunshine but like always the clouds part and the sun will shine once again very soon!
As we head into late November we’ve had some particularly superb Key West weather. After a stint of 30 mph winds we earned our well deserved week of stellar skies and calm seas.
The offshore bite has been fulfilling these days with blackfin tuna, skipjack and false albies. Most of the areas we’ve fished only have one hang-up – sharks. Managing to get your fish to the surface and in the boat before it gets bit in half has been a feat in itself. The reef is producing some large yellowtails and the patch reef spots are also yielding some mutton snapper. November is a terrific month for mutton snapper and they can be a perfect size in the 10- to 15- pound range.
Inshore fishing is also rockin for permit lately. Just enough chop and the perfect temperature water make for the right recipe to get the fish feeding. Look for permit fishing to remain good for a while still as long as we don’t get a huge cold snap.
Monday is forecast to be windy again so get your fishing in this weekend!
The Keys weather doesn’t get much better than this week. The temps are in the mid to upper 80’s and the sun is shining bright. Perfect for permit fishing. Large permit are abundant on the flats this time of year and if you can find them chances are they are going to eat a fly.
Capt. Justin Rea witnessed something extraordinary today while fishing on the backcountry flats around Sugarloaf. He saw a hammerhead crush a large permit and take a huge bite out of it’s tail. This isn’t the first time he’s seen this sort of thing. There was an instance where he had seen a tarpon get pushed up onto a shallow flat by a hammerhead. The hammerhead t-boned the tarpon and with two thrashes of his hammer the tarpon was ripped in half.
The permit was left floating so Rea boated the fish and later took it to the dock. After some careful inspection of it’s stomach contents he found several sea urchins. It’s always a wonder why permit love crabs so much. But when crabs are scarce I guess they have to find other means of nutrition. Permit have no teeth so they use crushers to disable their quarry.
Later that day his angler did land a whole 20- pound permit on a fly.
The weather has been so calm that we are able to get offshore in our 24′ Yellowfin bay boat. Rea had heard the bite was on so he came home and swapped out the skiff for the larger boat and headed offshore for a late afternoon tuna session.
Guess we are having tuna for dinner tomorrow! Yum!