Summer Storms Out, Fall S.L.A.M.s In

This week rounded out a challenging month of fishing here in Key West. Compared to the light winds and gin-clear water that are usual for the month, weather this August was comparable to springtime in Key West for producing repeated days of wind, rough water, and poor visibility on the Flats. Many guides are calling August 2013 the windiest they have ever seen. The month ended with a weekend of stormy weather, with high winds and thunderstorms on Saturday giving way to high winds and high seas on Sunday that kept most of the Key West Charter Boats in the docks. It appears as if scattered thunderstorms and showers will be the norm for the next week or so, but hopefully calm waters will return as the Keys enter their official off-season. The fishing pressure will slack off with less of a crowd in town and fewer boats on the water, and we can hope for some good fall fishing conditions.

With interspersed windy and rainy days, the Flats have presented some challenging fishing conditions lately. The Key West Grand Slam – Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit caught on the same day – was hard to come by the last couple weeks of August. As normal for August, Bonefish and Permit were being caught on the Flats, but the poor sight-fishing conditions certainly did not do anything to improve the catch rate. There were also some Tarpon being caught along the edges of the Flats where they drop off into the channels. Live crabs were working for this, as well as soft artificials and plugs like the Bagley Finger Mullet. Although Tarpon can be caught in Key West waters year round when conditions are right, the primary migratory Tarpon season runs from March until June, and things are slowing down now as fall comes on.

The Backcountry was good for some big Barracuda during the full moon last weekend and just after. The Barracuda were hitting top water lures, and were often on the move in very shallow water over the patch reefs. Out on the reefs and wrecks this past week, the Snapper bite was very strong. A 3-day Red Snapper season that opened for last weekend brought in a lot of fishermen, and the Fish Key West Charter Captains reported many limits of these delicious fish brought on board. The Shark fishing has also held up both on the Flats and in deeper water, and these fighting heavy weights have been the go-to fish to keep the rods bent and anglers having fun.

The Deep Sea Fishing was fair to good this week, with a lot of school-size Mahi-Mahi caught, and a few opportunities for Marlin, Tuna, and Wahoo. The key to finding the Mahi-Mahi lately seems to be running out to the edge of the Gulf Stream or even further, then searching for the isolated patches of floating debris. Each day seems to be different, and the only consistent aspect of the Mahi fishing has been the fact that Captains need to cover a lot of water to find them.

Tournament fishermen, professional and amateur alike, along with celebrity anglers including former space shuttle astronaut Bruce Melnick, former Denver Broncos football player Mark Cooper, and MLB Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, will hit Key West the first week of September for the 24th annual Southernmost Light Tackle Anglers Masters, or S.L.A.M. competition. This event, part of the Redbone Florida Keys charity series benefiting cystic fibrosis research, has anglers fishing the Flats in the attempt to score a Flats Grand Slam.

The S.L.A.M. is the first stop on the annual Robert James Sales Keys Trilogy series of events that also includes the 23nd Baybone in Key Largo, Oct.11 – 13, targeting Bonefish and Permit, and the 26th annual Redbone, Nov. 1 – 3 in Islamorada, which has anglers chasing Bonefish and Redfish. S.L.A.M. competition fishing hours run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, September 7th & 8th. The S.L.A.M. will be preceded on Friday, September 6th by a day of saltwater flyfishing competition in the Superfly event sponsored by The Angling Company. Superfly fishermen must use only one fly pattern all day to catch and release as many fish as they can. The 2012 Superfly win was taken by David Olson of Miami, who used a lightly-weighted shrimp imitation to hook six Redfish and two Bonefish to best seven other anglers.