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Finally catching a break, and some tarpon

Tarpon on the oceanThe last few weeks have really been the extreme in wind and weather. From mid-March the winds have been harsh in all honesty. After another few days last week of sitting-around-because-it’s-raining-again we finally caught a break!

April is historically known to be the beginning of the tarpon migration. At least that’s how it’s written in many of the magazines or books out there. Fact is there can be tarpon here all year long and if the temperatures are right they can start sliding through late January to February.

But let’s talk about the past few days – great tarpon movement and some great fish landed. I certainly love it when a plan comes together. I really look forward to this time of the year. A lot of my anglers are not just clients but have become friends that I look forward to seeing and fishing with.

The fish are going to be laid up in the basins and move on the ocean and along the Gulf edge. Early morning they can be difficult to see for the untrained eye. I always tell people to look for purple. That seems to describe their coloring especially in deeper water or where there is darker bottom.

Bonefishing has not been all that bad either. Look for the bones to be abundant throughout the next few months into the fall. They are a great species and sometimes the most forgiving for the novice fly-rodder.

Offshore I’ve heard the yellowtail bite is really good. Although I don’t head offshore much this time of year I can certainly refer a few great guides to do the deep sea fishing.

Follow me on Instagram @captjustinrea

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April 27th, 2017|

February Fishing Report 2017

Large Keys Barracuda

February Fishing in Key West

February started off very positive in the fishing realm. The weather was beautiful this year for our annual Cuda Bowl Fishing Tournament. The tournament was Feb. 2-4 and was based out of Hurricane Hole Marina.  During the two day event there were a record 418 barracuda caught and released. The largest being 53.5 inches caught by Tom del Bosque of Boca Raton, FL.

My angler John Chinuntdet of Moorseville, NC won First Runner-Up in the fly division with a total of 202.5 inches. The full results of the event can be seen at http://www.cudabowl.com.

After the tournament was over the weather just kept on being nice. Seasonal highs in the high 70s and light winds. With my anglers we ventured all up and down the Keys flats and even ventured out past the reef on the calmer days for some tuna and snapper.

Just last week the calmest weather rolled in and low and behold there were some big tarpon showing themselves in the backcountry. Tarpon, bonefish and permit were all happy and willing to eat a fly even! The large barracuda pictured in this article was caught on the flats and is one of the largest I’ve seen yet this year. This guy was a slob!

We had a little bit of a front come through last evening but the sun is already shining again. If we stay in the mild weather pattern we can expect the fishing to just get even better. This is one of the best times of the year to target permit on the flats. They head offshore soon to spawn and there won’t be as many on the flats for a while.

Coming up in March is the March Merkin Permit Tournament. This even is scheduled for March 13-16 in Key West. I’ve fished this event every year except the first and it’s a great event with great folks who share a passion for permit.

February 16th, 2017|

October Fishing in the Keys

We were fortunate to get literally no weather from Hurricane Matthew here in the Lower Keys. Fortunately the storm spared a lot of our friends in the Bahamas and up the east coast.  As almost always right before a cold front or a change in pressure the fishing can really turn on. And that it did! My anglers last week were fortunate to get in some good fishing for tarpon, bones and permit.

October is a spectacular month for shallow water fishing in the Keys. In particular the permit fishing can be really, really good. There are a lot more larger permit on the flats again and they will stick around for a while now, pending any harsh cold fronts that roll through.

The winds in October can range from very calm to blustery. This coming week the forecast is calling for wind but the fortunate thing about windy conditions and permit is that we are able to get a lot closer to the fish without them noticing we are there. The noise of the waves masks the noise of our skiff.

And although fly fishing in the wind is something a lot of people are not used to, I cannot stress enough how important it is to practice your cast a bit before you get here to do the real deal. Getting the fly out there in two false casts is ideal. Sometimes the fish will not give us much time to move around and sometimes just the movement of a cast can scare them off. This month the fish seem to be on the hunt more for food and feed actively, puffing mud is their dead giveaway.

The tarpon fishing will not be ask active and juvenile fish will be in selective places. October is the greatest opportunity for bonefish and permit this fall, take advantage of it if you can.

October 1st, 2016|

Tarpon Time in the Keys

One of the most sought after fish in our Florida Keys waters is the ‘Silver King’… the tarpon. Although it looks like a prehistoric beast, this bucket mouth oversized pilchard is a fish worth a lot of dough. Every single one we fish to, that follows the fly or leaps through the air means something to someone. I’ve watched guys come back year after year just to get the fly in front of one of these beasts and I must admit, to see their pectoral fins flair out right before they charge the fly is what makes it all worth while.

This tarpon run has started out kind of on the slow side. For once May was not a total wash – meaning rain and wind and days that are unfishable. May was pretty darn nice, but for a while there I had to wonder where the heck the tarpon were and when were they going to show themselves.

I’ve fished here professionally since 2002 and even in my time I’ve seen a lot of changes in our fishery. It’s a good thing we have great people at Bonefish Tarpon Trust and our own Lower Keys Guides Association that assist in preserving our fishery. It’s a great one and so many people visit us this time of year just for the tug of a tarpon on fly.

IMG_4027The past couple of weeks have changed my outlook on the tarpon bite. It’s made a complete turn-around lately and we’ve gone through one Palolo worm hatch and are about to be on the cusp of another. The Palolo worm is a red-ish earthworm looking creature that hatches from the coral rock, pops to the surface of the water and makes a b-line for the reef. For some reason these worms are a delicacy for tarpon and other aquatic fish and birds too!

To fish the worm hatch you’ve gotta have some accuracy throwing the fly and have the strip down in order to mimic the worm. I’ve seen it where there are so many worms it’s very difficult to get a bite. Other times there are just enough worms that you can get a bite and all you want to do is break him off just to fish to the next fish. It’s sometimes crazy and chaotic and before you know it the sun has set and it’s all over.

We do fish the worm during the day on occasion when the tarpon are just not wanting to eat anything else. Most locations where you will find the worm hatch going on are on the oceanside flats where there is hard bottom. Not to say it doesn’t happen in the backcountry, but you have to know where to go and how to get back once it gets dark.

June is shaping up to be a good month. We’ve just had some rough weather days that were part of a tropical system but it looks like at least the winds will die off and we will be able to see those early morning rolling fish we all dream about.

June 9th, 2016|

April Key West Fishing Report

The weather and the fishing gave us a break this week on the flats. Some calmer and warmer water brought in a push of tarpon. A welcome sight this time of year as the tarpon should begin their annual migration. Things are so different as opposed to say ten years ago but with a little effort poling the boat and finding the pods of tarpon we had a few great days with tarpon, bonefish and even a nice permit (which was caught on a tarpon fly – go figure).

This weekend is the Southernmost Air Show at NAS Key West so we’ve had the Blue Angels flying overhead for a few days now offering some additional entertainment. The Blue Angels haven’t been down to the Keys in several years so it’s great to have them here.

This is the start of one of the best times of the year here in the Keys.  The winds start to calm and shift to the southerly direction warming up the waters. Big tarpon flood the backcountry basins and start to move along the Gulf edge and eventually the oceanside flats.

There are still some permit swimming but they do head offshore to the patch reefs to spawn so there may not be as many around until late May or June.

The bonefishing has been surprisingly good this week. It’s so nice to see a good population of them around the shallows.

Stay tuned for more action this week as the tarpon run just gets going.

For availability please email me or call 305-360-3122.

April 3rd, 2016|

Permit Daze

The end of February marks one of the peak times of the year to target permit on the flats.  As history has it permit go offshore to spawn the April but each year it seems to be earlier.  The last week in February can be a tough weather time with small windows of opportunity for epic permit fishing. As we roll into the first half of March it’s time to concentrate on permit fishing as we lead up to the March Merkin Permit Tournament March 14-17.  The best conditions I would wish for would be a breeze 10-15, good tide and clear skies. Permit will chow down and plump up before their sabbatical in the offshore waters.

Fly fishing for permit is exceptional. The fish are feeding hard and puffing mud. They travel in smaller schools or by themselves and there are some BIG permit in our waters in February and March so be on the look out for Permitzilla.

But, if there are a few warm days where the wind is very calm it could be the perfect time for some early season tarpon fishing. April through June is the main migration time but falling outside that time either earlier or later in the season is also good. The crowds are lighter come the end of June too, leaving less pressure for our fishery.

If you are looking for some days this spring I have a few openings – a few days in May just became available and some in the later part of June.

Stay tuned for more in our next report on permit season.

February 24th, 2016|

February Fishing Report

The weather always plays a factor in fishing anywhere you go in the world. People come here on vacation hoping for the best weather possible but sometimes it just doesn’t end up being so. My advice – fish your conditions.

No one is going to tell on you if you are a hard core fly angler and you pick up a spinning rod because the wind is blowing 30 mph. In fact, you might just like it!

The Cuda Bowl tournament a few weeks ago was such harsh winds the first day that we cancelled fishing to ensure the safety of our anglers and guides. Still there were a few who went out just to fish and I know at least one of them put down the fly rod and picked up a spinning rod just to get the thrill of hooking a barracuda.

I think there is a fever out there this month for Barracuda. Ask anyone who has been out there fishing for barracuda, it’s addictive. The fish will explode on a fly or tube lure and are not afraid to follow it all the way to the boat!

Here are some details on a meeting you can attend if you are in the Lower or Upper Keys on February 22nd regarding the protection of Barracuda:

BARRACUDA
This is a chance to further improve barracuda regulations. The new regs, which went into effect on Nov. 1, 2015, apply in state and federal waters off Collier, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties only, and include:

– Recreational and commercial daily bag limit of two fish per person and
– Recreational and commercial daily vessel limit of six fish per vessel.

Unfortunately, a slot size was turned down by commissioners. We AT LKGA believe a slot size is still important to the overall barracuda stock and urge members to show up in support of cuda at these upcoming meetings.

Monday, Feb. 22- Key West
Harvey Governmental Center
1200 Truman Ave.
6:00-8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 24-Islamorada
Founders Park Community Center
87000 Overseas Hwy.
6:00-8:00 p.m.

Keep an eye out for the weather to get better and low and behold the permit and tarpon will be coming back to play in larger numbers. Due to some life events for some of my returning anglers I do have a few openings during the spring and early summer for tarpon fishing. Email me if you are interested!

 

February 16th, 2016|

Cuda Bowl 2016

Cuda Bowl 2016

Many thanks to all the great people who came out to fish in the 2016 Cuda Bowl. We started this tournament six years ago to bring awareness to the species of barracuda and to give our guides some business in the slower part of the season. This year was our largest event yet! We had 61 anglers on 38 boats participate in the event. Unfortunately this was the first year that Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. We had to cancel fishing on the first day of the tournament due to extremely high winds. The second day of the event there were a lot of fish caught and we were very happy with the outcome since it was a one day event at this point.

So congratulations to everyone for getting out there are giving it their all for the Cuda Bowl. We have made a difference in helping to show that barracuda is a perfect gamefish and should be protected.

Grand Champion Spin Division

Chad Brown from Traverse City, MI

137.75 inches

Guided by Derek DeYoung of Old Mission Peninsula, MI

 

Grand Champion Fly Division

Nathanial Linville of Key West, FL

122.25 inches

Guided by Capt. John Benvenuto of Key West

 

Top Lady Angler

Heidi Andrews of Jackson, WY

99 Inches

Guided by Capt. Chris Trosset of Key West

 

1st Runner Up – Spin Division

Ted Margo of Fort Worth, TX

132.5 inches

Guided by Capt. John O’Hearn of Big Pine Key, FL

 

1st Runner Up – Fly Division

Will Beggs of Hayesville, NC

61 inches

Guided by Capt. Zach Stells of Big Pine Key, FL

 

Runner-Up Spin Division

John Schwab of Marathon Key, FL

130 inches

Guided by Capt. Dustin Huff of Marathon Key, FL

 

Runner-Up Fly Division

David Kohledge of Key West, FL

30”

Guided by Brandon Cyr of Key West, FL

 

Largest Barracuda – Spin Division

Ted Margo of Ft. Worth, TX

51.5 inches

Guided by John O’Hearn of Big Pine Key, FL

 

Largest Barracuda – Fly Division

Nathanial Linville of Key West, FL

45.25 inches

Guided by Capt. John Benvenuto of Key West, FL

 

Most Barracuda Releases

Lance Gleason of Missoula, MT

Guided by Capt Jared Cyr of Key West

 

First Runner Up Lady Angler

Lacey Kelly of Chiefland, FL

84 inches

Guided by Capt. Jared Cyr of Key West, FL

 

Runner Up Lady Angler

Lynn Bell of Cudjoe Key
47 inches

Guided by Capt. Rob Kramarz

The tournament is in memory of Ben Gravett who had fished in the Cuda Bowl since its inception in 2011. Ben passed away in 2014 and we have named this event in his honor. He would love it if we all still had as much fun!

Ben Gravett Team Trophy

Jamie Gravett of Warrenton, VA

Steve Brown of Warrenton, VA

Guided by Capt. Pat Bracher of Cudjoe Key, FL

 

February 10th, 2016|

Fall Fishing in the Lower Keys

Today marks the first day of fall. Here in the Keys summer has been hanging around. The heat of summer will stick around for a while longer I imagine. The nights are starting to cool off which is a sign there is relief on the horizon.

September has already been a tremendous month for permit and bonefish. It’s so nice to see the population of bonefish so healthy.

The beginning of September we had the Redbone S.L.A.M. tournament and the Redbone SuperFly. These events are a tremendous fundraising event for Cystic Fibrosis. I had the pleasure of fishing Cal Collier, Jr. again in the Super Fly. We started out the day getting our tarpon and were on the way to a bonefish spot when BAM! one of the blades of my prop fell off. And for those of you wondering – no, I didn’t hit anything. So while a friend and fellow guide, Capt. Rob Kramarz, went well beyond the call of duty to get another prop and schlep it out to me on the flats, we managed to pole over to a few flats and get our bonefish.

After being broken down for about three hours we got going again and stopped at one more spot early afternoon to get the final piece of the puzzle – a permit.

When we returned to the dock we found that Nathaniel Linville had also caught a slam but he had landed his last fish later that afternoon.

We were so ecstatic to actually win the SuperFly after our breakdown that we decided to spend the next two days of the Redbone S.L.A.M. tournament searching for the target species but also enjoying the Keys waters and doing a little snorkeling and lobstering along the way.

The weeks to follow have been calm, steamy hot and really great for fishing. As we head into the official fall months we will see the air cool down and in some cases the fish will be a lot more active.

The offshore waters have been heating up and coming into October and November the blackfin tuna will move in plus there will be mahi-mahi, wahoo and sailfish. The bait supply is already very good which always helps.

I do have a little time open in early October due to a cancellation. If you are thinking of coming down for some shallow water fishing the fall is a perfect time!

September 23rd, 2015|

Palolo Worms, Tarpon and Wind

There is a certain formula to landing your tarpon fishing days on one of the nights of the fabled Palolo Worm Hatch. Some guys try to plan it but the fact is even if you don’t hit the mother load on one of those evenings, the tarpon will still be willing to eat the worm even if it’s not while you sit at Bahia Honda Bridge on an outgoing tide, on a full or new moon at sunset.

Tarpon start acting strange sometimes a week before the worms emerge from the hard coral rock. They might even just about disappear on the flats. It’s usually a tell tale sign that the “hatch” is going to happen.  It’s frustrating to say the least when you run around all day looking for a meatball of fish only to find tarpon here and there scattered along the ocean flats. Of course there are other places to find them but those big ocean fish are what attracts fly anglers to the Keys this time of year and keeps them coming back year after year.

IMG_4749The worm hatch will create a frenzy of tarpon in areas on the oceanside and around Key West Harbor. Sometimes if there are too many worms, your fly can be forgotten. The key is to get it right on their nose and use a long sweeping strip or striper strip so emulate the movement of the Palolo Worm.

Tarpon will swim differently too. They almost wiggle on the surface and you will see them not just roll but stay up longer pursuing a worm as it darts along the surface.

Worm Flies are very simple to tie and I suggest rigging up the fly on the leader before you get out there. Do a dozen if you have time. Whether you just want a few jumps out of the fish or want to land him (which I don’t really suggest during the hatch because you are missing all the fun) you will loose a few flies. The fly can have blue or chartreuse thread and a simple strip of red rabbit or even a clump of marabou. You may want to keep the tail longer and trim it once you get out there and see what size the worms are.

This past week through the Memorial Day weekend has been a challenge for fly fishing. The wind kicked up on Saturday and it’s been more of a permit fishing kind of day ever since. Wind and Palolo Worms don’t get along because of the chop on the water the worms would probably travel more subsurface. If you want to get away from all the boat traffic go on the hunt for permit on the Gulf edge. This time of year it is a welcomed relief from the intensity of tarpon fishing on the ocean and holding your position on the flat to wait for a shot.

May 27th, 2015|