Hit the Flats for Hot Key West Fly Fishing

Spring fishing in Key West is always some of the best of the year, especially for those two legends of the Key West Fly Fishing world, Tarpon and Permit. And this March has been turning out to be one for the record books here on the island. First of all, the Tarpon started showing up in late February and came on strong from the first days of March. Then, a month that is usually known for constant wind and sporty offshore conditions is turning out to be stretches of beautiful weather with a few breezy days thrown in. And the angling has been phenomenal, with big Permit on the Flats and some of the hottest Tarpon fishing seen in years. Once a pack of rolling fish is located, they are eating baits and flies alike with gusto, and captains out of Key West are reporting Silver King hook ups in the double digits on both morning and afternoon trips.

Key West Harbor is holding lots of Tarpon. A stretch of east wind days in the second week of the month made for excellent chumming, which is generally the best technique to use on Tarpon in the deep channels of the harbor. With a pack of fish in sight, chunks of dead bait drifted back in the chum trail is nearly sure-fire. On calm days, live crabs, pinfish, or mullet drifted on the tide to rolling fish on the surface or dropped to the bottom have been working well. With the Tarpon on the move and feeding the way they are now in the early season, things are going to get crazy when the big packs move in with the peak of the migration in May and June. Tarpon show up from the south and gather just offshore in large numbers before breaking up into groups of 15 to 20 fish and heading into the shallows around Key West. Once they get into the channels, they start feeding and the game is on. As soon as the water warms up a bit more over the Flats, the fish will move shallow and conditions will set up for the ultimate challenge in Key West Fly Fishing: a hundred pounds of Tarpon at the end of a fly line in 3 feet of water.Fly_bluefish

The Flats have already seen some great days for going after Permit on a fly rod. Fish up to 35lbs. have been reported, and action has been steady in the more usual size range of 10-20lbs. The excellent calm weather makes for a nice day out, but it can put a slight handicap on Permit fishermen as these wily fish are more difficult to approach and fool when the water is glass calm. This proved to be a factor in one of the yearly highlights of the Key West Fly Fishing scene when contestants in the 2015 March Merkin Permit Tournament had to hunt fish in calm conditions. Only 14 Permit were released in this fly-only competition, with the win going to Nathaniel Linville of Key West who caught and released 4 permit while fishing with Captain John O’Hearn of Big Pine Key. “These fish are difficult to catch under any conditions, but particularly when it’s calm,” Linville said. “They’re very aware of what’s going on around them, and when you’re trying to throw a fly rod and put a fly right next to them, they know what’s coming.” Runner-up honors went to John Holt of Bozeman, Montana. Holt fished with Trevor Luce of Palm Coast, Florida and came up with 3 Permit, including a 31-inch fish that was the tournament’s largest.

While an epic Key West Fly fishing season is certainly shaping up in the Backcountry, the water all around Key West has been alive with fish for the past week. The light winds have opened up the possibility of fishing anywhere you want, and the bait has been swarming both inshore and offshore. On the Atlantic side, Sailfish, Kingfish, Wahoo and Mahi Mahi have all been hitting live bait fished from kites, on the surface over the reef, and under the flocks of birds offshore. The Gulf wrecks are holding big Amberjacks and a lot of Permit. When calm water makes it possible to go anywhere you want during some of the best fishing of the year, the potential is huge. From Tarpon to Permit, Snapper to Grouper, you can fish multiple areas and catch over a dozen species on one trip.

If you have been thinking about coming to Key West for some Tarpon fishing, fly fishing for Permit, or an all-around action fishing trip, now is the time to make your move. The word is out this year and many charters are already booked through July. Booking is quick and easy through Fish Key West, so don’t miss out on the best spring fishing season in years.