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!
The Florida Keys Are Open!
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!
December 2018/January 2019 Fishing Report
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!
February 2018 Post-Irma Fishing Report
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!
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.
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!
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