Well 2023 has started as a warm one. It’s not even March and it’s already feeling downright hot here in Islamorada and the Florida Keys! But oddly enough the last couple of weeks have been calmer than usual in our archipelago. Usually this time of year it’s really blowing. Anyone who has fished in the Florida Keys knows that’s it’s generally windy, so this change has been nice. However, I’m hoping that wind is going to start cranking because a calm spring usually means a windy fall (In like a lamb, out like a lion) and that is not something we want. No sir, no hurricanes for me! Well, back to the fishing… With the warm and calm conditions it’s no surprise that the fly fishing for big tarpon in the backcountry has been pretty good, depending on the day. If this weather and water temperatures continue, it won’t be surprising if the big tarpon migration happens sooner this season. And while the big tarpon always get the attention, anyone who has fished with me previously knows that my favorites are juvenile tarpon and snook in the backcountry. The smaller tarpon are generally eager eaters, jump like crazy but unlike the big fish are quick to get to the boat and most importantly, quick to revive and release to fight another day. As we get into March and April I start looking for big snook. This time of year has been when customers have boated snook 20 pounds and up. That’s about as big as they get in Florida Bay and make no mistake, finding and getting one is about as hard as finding a Unicorn. But when it does happen… There is simply nothing better in my book. But then again… March is hands down the best permit month here. These fish will school up big time before heading offshore to spawn and if you hit it right, the fishing can be surreal. Other than that, our other finned friends Mr. Bonefish and Mr. Redfish have been around, but a bit tougher to find some days. I hope 2023 finds everyone well and I hope to see you down here!
After a few months of being closed to all non-residents, the Florida Keys officially opened to tourists on June 1. All hotels, restaurants and businesses are open but operating with social distancing measures in place but those measures dependent upon the policies of the business owners. It may not be exactly the Keys you remember or the Keys you dream about because you may need to wear a mask but the Keys are the Keys! There is no place like them!
If there has been one silver lining to the whole pandemic thing here is that the fishing has been nothing short of epic. I’m sure most of the migratory tarpon around swimming the Keys have seen this little harassment in decades! A month ago I had to drive to Marathon and from Islamorada all the way down and across the Seven Mile Bridge I saw three boats tarpon fishing! Three! In the month of May! Talk about happy fish! Bonefishing has been great, with a lot of fish in the backcountry. Redfish and snook fishing has been stupid at times.
The Keys closure came at the height of our busy season. I have been out of business since March 13. The Florida Keys have the second highest unemployment rate in the state. Our economy is based completely on tourism. I’m fortunate my wife works and has been able to float us financially during this time but she’s an ICU nurse so it’s not a lot of consolation. However, there are a lot of other folks here that aren’t so fortunate. I have a buddy that is a single dad, fishing guide, trying to support three kids. He’s suffering and so are a lot of others. So if you’re pondering a visit to the Keys don’t hesitate. Not only has been the fishing been great but visiting here will really help a lot of people in need. Times are strange, and it’s still a bit strange here but then again, the Keys have always been strange!
Well for starters, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that another fishing season is coming to a close. And what a year it has been! The start of 2018 was a bit rocky, courtesy of Hurricane Irma but things turned around quite rapidly here in the Florida Keys and life is thankfully back to normal. With only one or two exceptions, all of the Upper Keys hotels in Islamorada and Key Largo are open and many completely remodeled with new landscaping. And speaking of landscaping, looking at the local vegetation one would never guess that a Cat 4 hurricane went through the area. Everything is as green and lush as can be on land and the water is as blue as ever. And speaking of water, let’s get onto the fishing.
Anyone that has ever fished with me knows I love our Everglades backcountry, so most days I’ve been fishing the many islands and flats that make up Everglades National Park. The fishing the past month in the park has been nothing short of stellar. Big schools of finger mullet have been moving through and with them predators, including a personal favorite, the snook. Last week I had hands down, the best snook fly fishing I ever had in the fifteen years I’ve been guiding. We had one unbelievable day of sight casting to big snook in clear water. Normally fishing in clear water and bright blue skies is a tough proposition for any species, but the snook had the feedbag on that day and frankly I lost count of how many fish we had eat the fly. They were all solid fish but we got one snook that tipped the scales at close to thirteen pounds. Nothing quite like putting my whole fist in that bucket mouth to retrieve a fly! Two days later conditions were overcast and windy and found us working the mangroves. Mullet were coming through with the tide and the snook were destroying them! Everywhere you looked, snook were blasting bait! We sat on one spot for two hours, never moving, and probably hooked close to 50 snook! It was unbelievable! At one point we were hooking fish every cast. It was downright ridiculous. That day the sizes ran the gamut, from 12 inchers to fish in the 7 to 8 pound range. It was truly epic.
Mixed in with the snook have been a number of decent sized redfish as well, but the most encouraging thing to see has been the number of juvenile redfish in Florida Bay. We caught one baby redfish on a fly that probably measured 10 inches. The thing was adorable. But there also have been some very large redfish prowling about as well. We had shots at some fish that had to be pushing the 40 inch mark, but they had zero interest in eating a fly that day. Seeing big breeders is always a good sign, but seeing juveniles in the bay is very encouraging and hopefully our redfishery returns to the fantastic fishery it had been just a few years ago.
With our water temperatures cooling with our winter weather, the Spanish mackerel bite is really starting to fire up. Fishing for “macks” is nothing but pure fun. Hang a chum bag, put on some wire leader and a fly you don’t care about being destroyed and listen to your drag scream! Watch those knuckles! If you have never fished for these speedsters you need to!
Well that’s all I got! Happy Holidays everybody and tightlines!
Well we finally have some warmer temperatures here in the Florida Keys. Up until last week, we were still feeling the effects of the Arctic blasts that many others were experiencing in more northern climes. Thank goodness for the warmer weather, because with the warmer water temperatures the fishing has heated up. The permit are starting to show up big time, and last week was unbelievable. We had one slicked out calm day when we were casting at fish for a solid eight hours! There were literally hundreds of permit around, tails spiked up floating in the current, tailing in the shallows, hiding behind crab pots, you name it! Sizes ranged from little juveniles, to some slobs that were probably in the thirty pound range! Absolutely sick!
As many of you are aware, Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in the Florida Keys in September. Thankfully the Upper Keys of Islamorada, Tavernier and Key Largo were spared from the worst of it. But “worst” is relative and while we were not impacted like the Lower Keys, particularly Big Pine Key, there were families that lost homes in the Upper Keys. As I mentioned in a previous post, the majority of oceanside hotels in Islamorada suffered flooding and wind damage. But the repairs and cleanup the last few months have been amazing. The Florida Keys and Islamorada are open for business! The place still looks a little beat up, but it’s certainly not as bad as what the media has portrayed it as. One customer of mine that has been coming here for a number of years made the comment that “The place is a lot greener and looks a lot better than I thought it would be.” And he is right! And while Islamorada looks mostly normal, some things are not.
Which brings me to the still unique lodging situation in Islamorada. Islamorada is still at about half capacity for available hotel rooms. But that number is changing every day. Here is the information I have on the hotel situation: All of the bayside hotels in Islamorada are currently open and some of the smaller oceanside hotels are open as well. Many of the oceanside hotels are still closed for repairs but are working to reopen quickly. This is the latest info on re-openings that I am aware of. This is not a complete list of local lodging, just a list of the larger hotels. Amara Cay Resort is open. Chesapeake Beach Resort is open. The Moorings Village is open, Pelican Cove Resort & Marina opens February 15, La Siesta Resort & Marina opens March 1, Cheeca Lodge & Spa is due to reopen March 30, The Islander Resort reopens sometime in the fall but Islander Bayside is open, Postcard Inn, known by many as Holiday Isle is supposed to open sometime in June.
Given the limited number of hotel rooms currently available in Islamorada, I know some are having difficulty in booking lodging in the Islamorada area. For those of you unfamiliar with the Keys, there are plenty of hotels in Key Largo as well as a few in Tavernier, and most less than a twenty minute drive from Islamorada. Thankfully those areas did not receive the kind of flooding that other keys did, and with the exception of the Key Largo Hilton, all hotels in Key Largo and Tavernier are open, to the best of my knowledge. Check out islamoradachamber.com for links to local lodging.
Spring is just around the corner in the Florida Keys and with it some tremendous fishing, so come on down!
Happy New Year everyone! Islamorada and the Florida Keys have rung in the new year with the same arctic blast that so many in the country are feeling presently. Man it’s been chilly! My wife and I have been huddled around the fire pit burning wood piles left by Irma every night now for a week! I know, I know temperatures in the fifties is warm to some folks but here in the Keys that means dressing like an Eskimo. I mentioned Irma, and no, she is not some neighbor dropping off split logs. Irma, as many of you are aware, was a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in the Florida Keys in September. Thankfully the Upper Keys of Islamorada, Tavernier and Key Largo were spared from the worst of it. But “worst” is relative and while we were not impacted like the Lower Keys, particularly Big Pine Key, there were families that lost homes in the Upper Keys. As I mentioned in a previous post, the majority of oceanside hotels in Islamorada suffered flooding and wind damage. But the repairs and progress the last few months have been amazing.
Which brings me to the still unique lodging situation in Islamorada. All of the bayside hotels in Islamorada are currently open and some of the smaller oceanside hotels are open as well. Many of the oceanside hotels are still closed for repairs but are working to reopen quickly. This is the latest info on re-openings that I am aware of. This is not a complete list of local lodging, just a list of the larger hotels. Amara Cay Resort is open. Chesapeake Beach Resort is open. The Moorings Village opens January 15, Pelican Cove Resort & Marina opens February 1, La Siesta Resort & Marina opens March 1, Cheeca Lodge & Spa is due to reopen April 1, The Islander Resort reopens sometime in the fall but Islander Bayside is open, Postcard Inn, known by many as Holiday Isle is closed indefinitely.
Given the limited number of hotel rooms currently available in Islamorada, I know some are having difficulty in booking lodging in the Islamorada area. For those of you unfamiliar with the Keys, there are plenty of hotels in Key Largo as well as a few in Tavernier, and most less than a twenty minute drive from Islamorada. Thankfully those areas did not receive the kind of flooding that other keys did, and with the exception of the Key Largo Hilton, all hotels in Key Largo and Tavernier are open, to the best of my knowledge.
But enough of this minutiae and onto the fishing! Wintertime usually finds me poking around the backcountry of the Everglades. It affords shelter from the wind and it also holds fish! Sight fishing for snook and big jacks is about as fun as it gets, and finding slob snook sunning themselves in gin clear water after a cold snap is a dream come true! And when double digit jacks are roaming around in the same areas it’s even better! So get your frigid butt on a plane down to the sun and get some!
Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in the Florida Keys, September 9. Some areas were more severely impacted than others. Thankfully, the Upper Keys of Islamorada, Tavernier and Key Largo were mostly spared from the full wrath of the storm. Sadly, those living in Marathon and the Lower Keys were not as fortunate.
To be sure, the Upper Keys received their share of the damage. Some people lost their homes. Those properties on the Atlantic-side suffered the worst, particularly the mobile home parks where some homes were devastated by flooding. Trees landed on homes. Roofs were damaged. Most of the boat docks on the oceanside were severely damaged if not destroyed altogether. Many trees came down.
It sounds awful, and it is, but compared to what the Lower Keys are dealing with, we lucked out. Fortunately Islamorada and the Upper Keys were just outside the worst of Irma’s winds. The majority of the homes made it through with no or minimal damage. Thankfully my house made it through without a scratch. The screen porch didn’t even get a hole in it. My neighborhood only lost power for a couple of days. And while we certainly took a beating, the reality of our current situation is far different from that displayed in the media. Destroyed mobile home parks make good sensationalized news but do not tell the full story.
I won’t sugar coat it. Things do not look normal in Islamorada. Things do not look pretty. There are large mounds of tree debris and items damaged by flooding at the roadside awaiting pickup by the crews that have been working tirelessly to clean up this mess. But the recovery has been rapid. In less than a month’s time 70,000 cubic yard of debris have been removed from Islamorada alone by the twenty-five crews working there. When I returned to an undamaged home a week following the storm I had no power and could barely walk around my property due to all of the fallen tree limbs. The trees that remained standing were mostly denuded. But in two days, my entire yard was cleaned up and power restored thanks to friends and a utility truck from Wisconsin. Within a week, the massive pile of tree debris that obscured my house from the street was gone. And natures resilience has evidenced itself in the new leaves that I wake up to every morning.
People are working night and day to clean up the mess Irma left. The number of resources here from all parts of the country is staggering and the headway made in just a month’s time since Irma made landfall here is amazing. I can’t thank the emergency responders and linemen enough. I’ve seen firefighters and policemen that are a long way from home. The day we returned home and I saw a convoy of cops from Philadelphia I cried. And a special thanks to the Michel’s linemen from Wisconsin that strung a new service line for us. You guys are amazing. You make me proud to be an American.
Things are getting back to normal in Islamorada. Beers at Florida Keys Brewing, sunset cocktails at the Lorelei and dinner at Marker 88 is still the norm for me. And I’m not alone. But it’s just locals. Businesses are open with the exception of those oceanside hotels that want to return to a pre-Irma look and are rebuilding docks and re-planting palm trees before opening to the public.
And while it’s understandable that some may be hesitant to visit, there is one thing that Irma didn’t touch. Our fishery. Despite all of the gloom, the fishing has been amazing. Tarpon have been everywhere and there has been a ridiculous number of bonefish around. And nobody is fishing for them. So while things on land may be a bit grim, under the surface of the water, it’s a different story.
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