Spring Fever Hits Key West Fishing

March has gone out like a lamb on Key West fishing, with overall warm weather and water conditions prevailing through the month. Air temperatures hovering in the high 70’s and lower 80’s, along with flat calm conditions, brought on some good days of fishing both offshore and on the reefs. Fishing will only get better as we head into May and June, the spring and early summer season that many captains consider to be the best for Key West fishing. Game species are abundant and widely varied, with action on deck from Tarpon and Permit, Blackfin Tuna, Sharks, Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, Marlin, and the usual reef and wreck predators.

From its early spring start, the Tarpon fishing has continued to be pretty good, with plenty of fish around even though the bite can be inconsistent at times. Forecast conditions going into April are looking good for a real solid Tarpon fishing season. As usual with Tarpon, paying close attention to tide and water conditions, being ready to move or change tactics as needed, and above all being persistent are the keys to success. As we get into the peak of the migration in May and June, the action is bound to pick up on what has so far been an outstanding Tarpon fishing season.

When the Tarpon have not been cooperative, there has still been some great action on big Permit for the Flats fishermen. Evidence of this was displayed in the results generated by fly fishermen in the 2014 Key West March Merkin Invitational Permit Tournament that ran March 17-20. Unlike the 2013 contest in which tough conditions made the outing into a 1-fish contest, by day 2 this year Angler Nathaniel Linville and Captain John O’Hearn had measured, tagged, and released two fish that were both in the 30-inch range (30.75″ & 30″). In the end, the tournament was won by 2-time past grand champion Dr. Greg Smith of Laguna Vista, Texas. Dr. Smith, fishing with Captain Scott Collins of Marathon, Florida, managed to catch and release 3 fish that totaled 66.25 inches. To take his third championship, Dr. Smith bested 27 Permit fishing enthusiasts who came to Key West from as far away as California, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, New York, and Maine. Captain Collins took top guide honors for the third year in a row, while Nathaniel Linville earned the first runner-up spot as well as the award for largest Permit.

If you are looking for your own shot at a Permit, the action will continue to pick up going into June as the fish arrive back on the flats in ever-increasing numbers. For a chance at April Permit, look for big fish to be spawning on the patch reefs and wrecks on both the Atlantic and Gulf sides. Drifting over these areas with live crabs or bucktail jigs tipped with shrimp will often produce Permit in the 20+ pound range.

Captains who ran out to the reef edge the past week or so reported some solid mixed-bag catches. The Yellowtail are plentiful and eating well, as are the Mutton Snapper, Mackerel, Barracuda, Bonito, and Cobia. Cobia are a lot of fun, and have been ready to eat anything once they find out food is available. You may need to target them with crabs in order to keep the Barracuda and Sharks off your live bait. The Sharks are ever-present and aggressive, and big Bull Sharks as well as Hammerheads are nearly always on hand to provide a serious fight, as well as a menace to your hooked fish.

Offshore, the Blackfin Tuna bite has been strong. The place to be is out to the west of the island past Sand Key Light just as the sun starts to go down in late afternoon. Look for bird activity, running Flying Fish, or Tuna working schools of Ballyhoo, Herring, or Sardines on the surface. Live bait or trolled lures will bring on explosive strikes and high-speed runs that will leave an angler’s arms aching after multiple hookups in rapid succession. The Blackfin schools usually turn up from November through April, and water temps in the high 70’s should keep the current action going for a few more months. As a bonus, along with the Blackfin, some Bonito have been coming on board, as well as a few Wahoo and Mahi Mahi. As we go deeper into April, action should be picking up for Mahi Mahi and Sailfish out on the edge of the Gulf Stream, so come on down to Key West and catch spring sport fishing fever!