Key West Spring Tarpon Season is Here

The warm spring weather has been holding up pretty consistently into March, and the Key West spring Tarpon season is coming on strong except for few off days when cool fronts and north winds have quieted the bite down temporarily. But water temps have been holding in the 70’s, and Key West captains have been getting anglers on some big migratory fish laid up in the Atlantic and Gulf basins and on the flats off the deeper channels, with the Tarpon mostly in the mood to eat. As the big schools move into the harbor, anchoring up and chumming has been producing good results over the past week, with fish ranging from 50 lbs. to over 100 lbs. being reported. There has also been some good action on big Barracuda, Cobia, Snapper, and Sharks to keep rods bent between jumping Tarpon.

Speaking of Sharks, one thing besides a couple of cool days that has been putting a damper on the Tarpon bite is the large number of big, aggressive Bull Sharks that have moved into Key West Harbor this spring. Besides being a menace to hooked Silver Kings, these Sharks are quick to eat any kind of bait thrown their way. Running 200 to 350 pounds, the Bulls are a lot of fun to fight even though they do make Tarpon fishing difficult.

The blue water fishing on the Atlantic side was tough for a while, as current and water conditions were not working out for the best. Some captains headed out into the Gulf to pick up on the solid Kingfish bite that has been happening out there this spring. Others stuck it out on the Atlantic, going to water as deep as 500-800 feet and searching for the color changes and beginnings of weed lines to finally get into some good size Mahi Mahi as waters warmed up the past week or so. As is normal for this time of year, the early fish moving through often run big, and there have been reports of 50 lb. bulls being boated.

Oher notable action has been out on the reef edge and on the wrecks, where the Yellowtail Snapper bite has been hot and heavy. These fish have been moving in big schools, and together with a few Mutton Snapper, Mackerel, and even some Hogfish, they have been making the table fishermen happy with limits of nice filet fish. The Gulf wrecks have been good for Amberjack and Cobia, and giant Goliath Grouper are getting to be so plentiful out there that they are almost a nuisance with their voracious appetite for bait. Completely protected, these monsters are fun to catch and photograph if you are prepared with the gear and muscle needed to get one up to the surface.

With any luck, the weather this year will continue to be fine, and cooperate for the 2014 March Merkin Invitational Permit Tournament to be held out of Key West Harbor Yacht Club March 17-20. Last year, fly fishermen and their guides had a tough time out on the Flats struggling against high winds, cold air and water, and overcast skies – overall very poor Permit fishing conditions that yielded only one 29-inch Permit during the tournament. This spring, weather has been good so far, with the unseasonable warmth that held through most of the late winter leading to good Flats fishing and many nice March Permit being caught and released around Key West.

Tournament events will kick off on Monday, March 17th with a practice fishing day followed by a 6:00 pm reception at the Key West Harbour Yacht Club. For the following 3 fishing days, boats will leave the dock at 8:30 am to fish until 5:00 pm. Check-in and recording of fish measured, photographed, and released will take place by 6:00 pm each evening. Tournament proceeds will be donated to the Jon Ain Memorial Fund at Bonefish Tarpon Unlimited to support Permit research. Come on down and join in the fun if you are a Flats fishermen, or just enjoy the show after you go out on the reefs with one of our Key West charter captains for some great action fishing.