Saltwater fly fishing in Key West
Stalking the shallow water flats around the Lower Keys from Marathon to Key West with a fly rod in hand is something I love best. Year after year anglers return to the Keys to settle their bout with a tarpon that broke off after a long fight, or maybe they’ve tied the perfect crab fly that will get a permit to eat – fact is once an angler has made the committment to go fly fishing, there is no turning back. It is an addicting sport.
The level of difficulty with fly casting, presentation and reading the fish varies on any given day in any given season. Winter is a great time to stalk barracuda on the flats. These gamefish are more than willing to eat a shimmering needlefish fly and when they do – hold on! Large Crevalle jacks are also present on the flats in the winter giving even novice anglers a perfect target to cast at and the success of hooking up is quite good too.
Springtime gives us one of our best windows of opportunity to catch a permit on fly. February and March in particular are great months to target permit on the flats. These fish are on the flats for one reason only, to feed. They gorge on crabs and shrimp before heading offshore to spawn in April and they will return to the flats in late May and early June. There is a permit tournament held in March called the March Merkin, and a permit tournament in July called the Del Brown Invitational. Del Brown made permit fishing famous by catching more than 500 permit on fly in his lifetime. His crab, the merkin, is one of the best go-to patterns available for permit fishing.
Tarpon make a move into the area in late February and if the water temperature is right and we are in between cold fronts, they are a perfect target on a fly rod. These fish flood the deeper flats and basins from the Marquesas to Bahia Honda in the Lower Keys. One of the most popular fly fishing patterns is the Tasty Toad. This fly consists of a marabou tail or rabbit strip tail and a merkin-style head. Chartreuse and yellow seem to be the best colors, but don’t rule out other colors, always keep a variety of flies available for tarpon for all condtions of light and weather. A black and purple fly will work well in low light in the morning, evening and night time tarpon fishing.
Tarpon migrate through the Keys from April through June. They are plentiful and range from 40- pounds to 180- pounds, some even larger. Once things settle down in mid-June the tarpon seem to be a little more cooperative in eating. This can be attributed to the diminishing pressure of guide boats targeting tarpon. July and August are also great months to fish for tarpon. July will still give an angler shots at big tarpon plus there can be many baby tarpon in various spots in the backcountry. Keep in mind that we do see tarpon year-round here in the Keys, but spring and early summer have the highest concintration of fish.
Bonefishing in the Lower Keys backcountry flats can be really good in May, June and July. August being the hottest month may send these fish to deeper water to cool off. September and October are excellent months to fish in the early morning and evening hours for tailing fish off Sugarloaf and Cudjoe Key.
Regardless of your target species, the passion for saltwater fly fishing remains the same. If you are interested in pursuing fish on pristine sand flats in clear water then this is the place.