April 2016 Islamorada and the Florida Keys Fishing Report: Tarpon and Permit, Oh My!

Well spring has sprung on the flats of Islamorada and the Florida Keys.  And with the warmer water temps one of our flats favorites has been showing in good numbers: the tarpon.  Each day more and more fish have been showing in the backcountry and on the flats closer to home.  Most of these fish are large, 60-80 lbs or so, with some real slobs mixed in.  Calm mornings you can find these fish rolling and while you end up lining quite a few, it’s still amazing fishing.  Even better is if you find them feeding on baitfish schools.  That kind of aggressive feeding behavior is bound to result in a hookup.  That said, good fly casting is still the name of the game.  If your best cast is thirty feet after five minutes of false casting, better get practicing or better yet, invest in a casting lesson.  Far too many come to fly fish in Islamorada and the Florida Keys believing all they have to do is get a fly in the water and magically they’re going to catch all of our favorite flats species.  It’s not the case.  Doing anything with a fly here is the pinnacle of angling and good casting is a must.  I sound like a broken record when it comes to this stuff, but if you’re investing the money to come to Islamorada and the Florida Keys to fish, invest the time to work on your casting skills.  It doesn’t take much but too many anglers don’t even bother.  If you had the chance to play Augusta wouldn’t you at least hit the driving range?  Well that’s enough of a casting sermon.  On to the fishing.

The last few weeks we’ve been mostly targeting tarpon and permit.  Had absolutely amazing permit fishing the last few weeks.  Hundreds, yes I said, hundreds of the sickle tailed devils around.  All bunched up before they head offshore to spawn.  They ranged in size from juveniles to some beasts.  Nothing better than seeing dozens and dozens of tails spiked up on a calm morning!  As mentioned, more and more tarpon are showing.  We’ve had some incredible days the last couple of weeks.  When you look 360 degrees and see rolling tarpon everywhere it’s like striking gold!  When the wind has been really up we’ve been poling shorelines for snook but that has been tough fishing.  Most of the fish have been stuck well back in the mangroves and not moving an inch.  Hard to coax them out with a fly when it’s like that.  There have been a few redfish around.  Ditto for bonefish.

That’s it in a nutshell.  The coming weeks more and more tarpon will be showing up.  So come down and fish!  Until next time.  -Pete

December 2015 Islamorada And The Florida Keys Fishing Report: Happy Holidays!

It’s hard to believe it’s December and less than a month remains before 2016 begins.  It’s also hard to believe that we’re in a winter month in the Florida Keys because fishing sure doesn’t feel like it.  We had a slight cool down around Thanksgiving that was short lived and temps have rebounded since.  It feels like summer to me here in Islamorada and as I write this warm southerly winds are blowing and the rain dumping.  The rain is good because we sure have needed it.  We just need things to cool down a bit.  Unusually warm air temps and water temps for this time of year has meant inconsistent fishing.  Things are very much in transition now.  It’s been one day a hero the next day a zero kind of fishing.  But as the saying goes, ‘That’s just fishing’.  There’s nothing you can do about it except roll with it.  And even a bad day of fishing in the Everglades is still a memorable experience.

If there is one thing that inconsistent fishing will reinforce it is making the most out of every opportunity.  Botched casts add up and before you know it we’re headed back to the dock fishless.  Bad casts are hard to watch when there are a lot of fish around but when it’s slim pickings, it’s more than just upsetting.  Bad casts to fish when you’ve worked all day to simply find something to cast at take on a whole different meaning.  Those casts are critical.  Sure bad casts happen but you  can do one thing to minimize them: practice.  I sound like a broken record when it comes to this but practicing your casting beforehand will pay huge dividends.  You wouldn’t tee off at August National without at least hitting the driving range before you went.

Snook and redfishing in the backcountry has been okay but as I mentioned, not consistent.  One day they’re eating, the next day they’ve got lockjaw.  There are still tarpon around and as long as the water remains warm, they’ll stay around.  Permit fishing on the flats has been decent and ditto for bonefish.  Spanish mackerel have started to show in the gulf and that fishing will improve when the water cools a bit.  That’s it in a nutshell.

Happy Holidays everyone!

-Pete

April 2015 Islamorada/Florida Keys Fishing Report: Spring is Here!

It’s hard to believe Easter has come and gone and we’re already a week into April here in the Florida Keys.  I’m glad because we should be clear of any vestiges of winter.  It’s always a possibility a cold front will push through this time of year but for the most part, it’s balmy temps and winds from the east.  With balmy temps it should be no surprise to anyone that the Silver King will be making its yearly migration through Islamorada and its backcountry.  We had good tarpon fishing in the backcountry in March when the weather cooperated and as our weather stabilizes and our water warms it’s only going to get better.  Depending on the day, good numbers of tarpon have been moving on the ocean as well.  Most of these fish have been somewhere in the 60 – 80 pound range with some larger fish around as well.

If you’ve never fly fished for tarpon before, prepare yourself for a fishing experience unlike anything else.  It’s a physical, psychological and emotional commitment.  Forget all the stuff you’ve seen on TV.  Trust me, it doesn’t happen that way.  Catching any of our gamefish species on fly is not easy but tarpon fishing adds a physical element that the others lack.  Sure, the size of the fish will beat up an angler, but a lot of the time you’re getting bounced around in a pitching boat.  Casting to fish while trying not to fall overboard is not easy my friends!  If there is one thing any tarpon angler should prepare for it is this: Wind.  Contrary to what is shown on TV, tarpon fisherman are generally faced with wind, and a fair amount of it.  If there is one piece of advice I can give to the flycaster who is coming to the Florida Keys it is to learn to cast in the wind.  If you don’t know how to double haul, spend some time and learn it.  It is a necessary skill set and will make casting in the wind far easier.

The one thing I love about tarpon season is that everyone is tarpon fishing.  Don’t get me wrong, I love tarpon fishing as much as the next guide, but there is something to be said for running out back to go snook fishing and having Everglades National Park seemingly to yourself.  Ditto for redfish, permit and bonefish.  This time of year the limelight is on tarpon but fishing on a whole is great for everything else and there are far less boats to contend with.  The last two weeks were evidence to that.  Snook fishing was as good as it gets and we had all to ourselves.  Snook on fly is as cool as it gets but sight casting to snook over 10 pounds on fly is amazing.  Seeing that big bucket mouth inhale a fly is a heart stopper!  Until next time.  -Pete

 

January 2015 Islamorada and The Florida Keys Fishing Report: Happy New Year!

Well I can’t believe another year has come and gone.  Frankly, living in the Florida Keys time seems to go by faster.  You’re not reminded by the normal seasonal changes that much of the country has and which reminds you of where you are on the calendar.  Take this winter for example.  For the most part other than the days being shorter, the temperatures are getting into the low 80’s during the day.  What month am I in?  January?  Really?  With the exception of a couple of cooler weeks prior to Christmas, it’s been downright balmy and just like the past two winters.  I hate making fishing predictions because Mother Nature calls the shots, but it’s looking like it’s going to setup for the kind of amazing tarpon fishing we had in Islamorada in February and March of last year.  Fingers crossed!

Fishing in the park continues to be excellent for just about everything.  When I refer to the “park” it’s Everglades National Park I am speaking of.  One of the best things about fishing out of Islamorda is its proximity to the park.  From almost any launching point in Islamorada a five minute boat ride will place you inside a 1.5 million acre wilderness that is virtually inaccessible without a boat.  No jet skis, no commercial fishing, no random boat traffic.  There are days when you only share the park with dolphin, turtles, gators, maybe a croc and an amazing amount of bird life.  If you don’t understand why such an experience is a big deal even if the fishing stinks, you better stick to party boats or fishing under a bridge.

The last month or so the snook bite has still been solid, although I really wish things were a bit cooler.  Cooler mornings will have those fish out in the open sunning and warming up.  Bright, warm mornings are a different story.  Those fish will sometimes stick to the mangroves like glue.  Unless of course there are thousands of finger mullet swimming around.  That kind of candy with fins can cause the most stubborn of fish to abandon all caution.  All they need then is a perfectly placed fly right in front of their mug!  When snook are hanging under cover, the spinning rod definitely has the advantage.  But then again, it usually does.  A well placed jerk bait is hard thing for a snook to resist.  It still baffles me that some people think you can’t catch snook without live bait.  Trust me, they eat artificials just fine.  That said, just because you have a spinning rod in your hand doesn’t mean it’s going to happen on it’s own.  Skipping plastics under the mangroves takes plenty of skill.  If you don’t know how to feather a cast or even know what it means look it up.  It’s a necessary skill to cast accurately with a spinning rod.  Whether it’s a tailing redfish, a mudding bonefish, a permit or rolling tarpon, know how to feather your casts for accuracy and more hookups!

Happy New Year everyone and tightlines!  Until next time.  -Pete

 

December 2014 Islamorada/Florida Keys Fishing Report: Merry Christmas and Tightlines to All!

Merry Christmas everyone!  I always have to pinch myself this time of year and reflect on the fact that much of the world is a frozen wasteland.  Not here in the Florida Keys!  I am writing this report while sitting on my porch on a beautiful Islamorada morning with temperatures in the low 70’s.  That said, we did have a bit of cool down the last few weeks with nighttime temperatures dipping into the fifties.  I absolutely love it.  Sitting around a fire pit enjoying with your favorite beverage is one of life’s great pleasures if you ask me.  It’s not a bad time to think about fishing either.  North winds and cooler temps mean cooler water.  I enjoy the seasonal change but sometimes it can make the fishing a bit tough for some species, particularly if you are throwing a fly first thing in the morning.  The good thing is that our backcountry, comprised of Florida Bay, is shallow and warms quickly.  Sometimes you have to suffer through some dead water for part of the day until the water warms a degree or two and voila!  There they are!

The past month the snook bite continued to be solid, especially with all the finger mullet around.  I know I sound like a broken record but I am so happy these fish are recovering so well.  Mixed in withe the mullet were some decent sized jacks and the occasional monster sized (pushing 20 lb.) redfish.  Although I wish the jacks had been larger, jacks in the five to seven pound range are still a blast to catch, especially on fly or light tackle.  Hearing a customers knuckles getting rapped by a reel handle is not a good sound, but at the same time I know that whatever they fish for back home is probably not going to run off line like a jack crevalle.  The funny thing about jacks is that when you want to catch them they can be almost impossible to get.  They move so damned fast and are constantly cutting cutting right or left that getting a fly in front of them or even getting the boat positioned can be tough.  The good thing is that any frustration is quickly forgotten when you find yourself looking at your backing in the blink of an eye.

Speaking of rod bending species, the trout and ladyfish bite the last month was also good.  Sure, it’s not sight fishing or anything technical, but both fish species pull good and are a lot of fun.  Sometimes we forget, but fishing is supposed to be fun!  They’re great fish to hone skills on and a great stress reliever as well.  With the cooler water temps, the Spanish mackerel bite has really fired up.  The best bite is out in the Gulf and entirely weather dependent given the fact that you’re in a flats skiff, but when the winds are down and you can get to the fishing grounds, it is a blast!  Until next time.  -Pete

 

November 2014 Islamorada/Florida Keys Fishing Report: Happy Thanksgiving and Great Snooking!

It’s mid-November and what can I say, this past month the fishing has been fantastic in Islamorada and the Florida Keys.  Almost all of my attention has been focused on that green backed, yellow finned, line-sided and bucket mouthed fish assassin known as the Snook.  The fishing as of late for these guys has been the best it’s been for a long, long time.

Hard to believe that not so long ago, you could pole miles of snooky looking water and not see a single fish.  For those of you that don’t know, south Florida and the Keys had an extended cold snap in January of 2010 that lasted close to two weeks.  The coldest air temperature I saw at my house was 38 degrees!  Nightly temps for that time period never got out of the 40’s.  The snook, being a true tropical fish, really took it on the chin.  The population was decimated.  But that was 2010 and almost five years later it’s a different story.  I still think the state of Florida should have kept the season closed on snook for another year to insure a complete comeback but if this past month is any indicator, this great gamefish is back on it’s own two feet, or shall we say fins.

Why all the hubbub about snook?  If you have never caught one, or if your experience has been limited to bait, you don’t know what you are missing.  Besides, when you can catch snook on fly or artificial, why bother with bait?  Personally, getting a snook on fly is one of the coolest things you can do with the long rod.  For one, snook are structure oriented and are normally tight to shore.  Casts with a fly have to be as close to the mangroves as possible.  If you get one to eat/explode on a fly when they’re under the mangroves, guess where they’re going?  Let’s just say it’s a real gunfight from the get go.  You’ll be doing everything you can to horse that fish out.  And once they’re away from shore, they jump or if they’re big, they’ll shake their head out of the water, pissed off at the fact that you managed to fool them.  Snook are simply phenomenal gamefish.

With cooling water temperatures this past month and plenty of bait around, the fishing in the backcountry for just about everything has been great.  Redfishing is still solid with some very large fish around, (I’m starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to the reds) and you got the scoop on the snook.  Plenty of smaller tarpon around if you know where to look.  Almost forgot the jacks.  There  have been some big jacks around, fish in the ten pound range, just destroying the schools of mullet.  Pound for pound the best fighting fish we have and unbelievable on light tackle.  Bonefishing still remains hit or miss.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.  Until next time.  -Pete

October 2014 Islamorada/Florida Keys Fishing Report: Backcountry on fire!

Well it’s mid-October and fishing has really heated up.  The bait has arrived, the bait has arrived!  It’s a good thing because the past month was very up and down for me.  Some days a hero, some days a zero.  But last week I was all hero, thanks to Mr. Finger Mullet.  I am so glad because something needed to change.  Too many days of being surrounded by tons of tailing redfish that were moody and wouldn’t eat.  Sure, some of that moodiness can be attributed to fishing pressure, but when fish on every spot are responding in the same fashion, you know something is up.  I know on those lockjaw days that if I resorted to soaking baits or live chumming like many guides do, my results would be different.  But soaking baits isn’t hunting for fish and live chumming takes the “sport” out of sportfishing.  In fact, I wish guides would stop the practice of live chumming.  It ruins spots.  But enough of that, the bait has arrived, the water is cooling and fish are putting on the feedbag!

The arrival of the finger mullet is a cause for celebration.  Finger mullet are just that, mullet the size of a finger.  These mullet are not the same as the big daddies used to live bait tarpon.  These juvenile mullet are mouth-sized morsels that every gamefish predator can get in their gullet, and in the Everglades backcountry that means redfish and snook.  When you’re on a shoreline watching finger mullet schools pushing along and being blown up and smacked by snook, you know you’re in for some good fishing.  The same goes for redfish.  Sure, mullet muds are always a good place to look for reds, but finger mullet muds are a different story.  Redfish with shoulders will be blasting finger mullet and in that dirty water, they’re far easier to feed than in the clear stuff.

Bonefishing is still the same story.  It’s slowly improving.  Key word: slowly.  We’re still along way to get back to what we had but at least we’re moving in the right direction.  Truth be told, if you can’t put a fly or bait exactly where you want, in a wind, you will not be successful.  This stands true with any type of sight fishing, but when you’re only afforded limited shots, there is absolutely zero room for error.  This is strictly black and white fishing.  You can do it, or you can’t.  That’s the reality of it.

I had a tough permit month.  It seemed that every day we had to permit fish we were contending with clouds and wind.  Tough spotting in those conditions but we had our shots.  That’s all you can hope for fishing for Mr. Rubber Lips.

Well, even though I have the day off the weather is perfect and I’m going to go chase some fish with the wife.  Until next time.  -Pete

 

 

 

 

September 2014 Islamorada / Florida Keys Fishing Report: Fall Is Here!

Well it’s mid-September, the kids are back at school and the crowds have gone.  The fall is my favorite time to be in the Keys.  The tourist season is over and having less people around is a welcome break.  It also means nobody is on the flats!  Being able to fish Everglades National Park and have it all to yourself is pretty amazing.  Islamorada’s proximity to Everglades National Park is one of the reasons why Islamorada is the best place to fish in the Keys.  A five minute boat ride from any bayside boat ramp will put you inside the park.  You don’t have that kind of access anywhere else in the Keys.  Fishing inside the park is an amazing experience and no fishing trip to Islamorada is complete without going “out back”.  An angler can find every fish imaginable in the “backcountry”.  Bonefish, permit, tarpon, redfish, snook, sea trout, black drum, sharks, jack crevalle, and the list goes on.  But the bonus is fishing for these species in a wilderness environment.  Sure, it’s not unspoiled and there are reminders that you’re still in the 21st century, but there are definitely times when I’ve been fishing and wouldn’t have been surprised to see a dinosaur or two!  Now on to the fishing!

Redfish and snook fishing continues to be excellent.  As mentioned in previous reports, it is so great to see more and more juvenile snook.  This great gamefish is making a strong comeback since the freeze of 2010 and I couldn’t be happier.  What makes me unhappy is the fact that the state of Florida reopened snook season last year and people went right back to their old ways.  Most upsetting are the guides that did so.  As much as Islamorada is the “Sportfishing Capital of the World” it certainly is not the “Fishing Conservation Capital of the World”.  The old school, offshore fishing mentality of “if it’s legal, keep it” is archaic and needs to change.  For my part, every snook will go back.  They are too valuable of a resource to be on a dinner plate.

Another success story in the making appears to be bonefish.  Finding large schools of juvenile bonefish tailing in the backcountry is a great sign, although oceanside fishing has been the most consistent.  We’ve also been finding some decent sized schools of juvenile permit, along with the occasional slob.  There are still a number of tarpon in the 20 – 30 pound range on the oceanside as well as in the backcountry.  As the water starts to cool and the mullet migration kicks in next month, fishing for tarpon, redfish and snook will really light up.  That goes for bonefish and permit as well.  A little bit cooler water really fires these guys up and you can find some really fatties.  Looking forward to October.  Until next time.  -Pete

 

August 2014 Islamorada / Florida Keys Fishing Report: Go Get Some!

Well it’s mid-August and not surprisingly it’s a bit hot here in Islamorada and the Florida Keys.  The light winds of summer can have you wishing for more wind but I love it.  Slicked out conditions means spotting tails of all kinds.  Redfish, bonefish and permit tails to be exact.  When it’s glassy calm you can see fish on the flats from a distance, pushing, waking with tails flashing.  There is nothing better.  The flip side to glassed out conditions is the fish are far spookier.  Calm conditions demand stealth.  Dropped hatches and cooler lids will have happily feeding fish running for their lives.  The same goes for talking too loudly.  Remember, you’re hunting except you’re armed with a rod.  Long leaders are not fun to cast but they’re necessary when you’re faced with those kind of conditions.  Fish, especially those in shallow water, can hear and feel everything and they will keep their distance if something doesn’t feel right to them.  A boat rocking from putting too much “body English” into a cast will have fish pushing off in the opposite direction from the pressure wave created.  Efficiency of motion is what is needed for good casting.  Forget all the pics in the magazines and the videos that show guys casting as if they’re doing some track and field event.  You don’t have to double haul with your whole body!

The great news as of late has been the steadily increasing numbers of bonefish being found up and down the Keys.  There have even been some schools out in the backcountry.  Even better than seeing them is the fact that these fish have been juveniles.  It is certainly encouraging.  Along with the juvenile bonefish have been some juvenile permit as well.  So cool to see bunches of five pound permit spiked up and tailing away.  Sure they’re not big but who cares, they’re still permit and they will still smoke you.  Redfishing and snook fishing in the backcountry of Everglades National Park is still rock solid.  Look for bait, look for wakes.  Still plenty of tarpon around both on the ocean and in the Flamingo area.  Sizes vary, but I like finding fish in the 30 pound range.  Great acrobatics and they don’t beat you up too much!

If you haven’t already picked it up, the summer issue of The Drake is out and my essay “The Hum” is featured.  I had a good time writing it and I hope it’s enjoyed.  It gives a little taste of what summertime fishing in the ‘glades can be like.  Until next time.  -Capt. Pete Rowney

July 2014 Islamorada Fishing Report: Summer time fishing is red hot!

Well it’s mid-July and summer is definitely here.  Hot, humid and buggy and I love it.  Strangely, most northerners are afraid to visit the Florida Keys in the warmer months because they think it’s going to be “too hot”.  The shocking truth is that our temps rarely get over ninety degrees.  Most of the time it’s upper eighties.  That’s almost cool compared to many places in the summer, even New York City!

The nice thing about summer is that the winds have lessened, the snowbirds are gone and the fishing is great.  Weekends can get a bit busier but during the week almost no one is on the water.  Having Everglades National Park to yourself isn’t a bad thing, not by a long shot especially since the redfishing has been off the hook.  Slicked out mornings you can find redfish doing headstands, waving that big old tail around.  I love coming across a flat that looks like a sheet of glass and seeing tailers and pushers.  It’s a beautiful sight.  Along with the redfish, snook will be found up on the flats as well, usually sitting in depressions or holes.

I know I keep repeating myself, but it’s so good to see those fish coming back as strong as they are.  Snook are just an awesome gamefish and it’s great seeing them everytime I go out.  I still think the state should have kept the season closed for another year however.  Too many fisherman, including guides, went back to their old ways of killing every legal fish they caught.  That kind of old school attitude still permeates the Keys and that kind of offshore mentality really has no place where sportfishing provides everything to our economy.  Well enough of my ranting and onto the fishing!  As mentioned the redfish and snook fishing has been awesome in the backcountry.  The areas around Flamingo have been loaded with mullet and not surprisingly the gamefish are there as well.  While the tarpon migration is over, there are still plenty of fish around.  These residents will remain well into fall and some fish will overwinter at the bridges.

Although I don’t want to call it a recovery, bonefishing has been steadily improving.  The great news is seeing lots of juvenile fish in the 2 – 3 pound range.  That is certainly encouraging.  Fingers crossed that the fishery will make a full comeback.  When I think of summer I think of permit.  I love seeing those sickle tails spiking up on a glassed out morning.  Talk about an adrenaline rush!  For those of you that think it’s too hot to come to the Keys, you’re mistaken and you don’t know what you are missing!  Until next time.  -Pete