The 'flats' surround all of the Florida Keys. A flat is a shallow area or sandbar
that has grass on it mixed with sand or it can be a hard bottom with coral
upcroppings. Fish go to hunt for food in these areas. Through the years flats
fishing has gained popularity as being the sport fisherman's golf game.
This type of fishing is the most unique and addictive angling in the world.
Famous modern day anglers such as Flip Pallot, Lefty Kreh, and even Jimmy
Buffett have all written extensively of their adventures on the flats of the Lower
Keys, where the sport was pioneered. Their tales of fly fishing for the enigmatic
tarpon, bonefish, and permit, in an environment of unparalleled beauty, have
made this the fastest growing segment of saltwater angling
The best back country fishing guides have a special blend of talent, knowledge
and skill as they pilot you into the wilderness of the uninhabited Keys and
mangrove shorelines of the Florida Bay or the Gulf. Fly fishing, light tackle
fishing, bone fishing and tarpon fishing - all good choices for Florida Keys
and Key West backcountry fishing.
All About Back Country and Flats Fishing
An Article By Capt. Frank Stabile
The Bonefish also called banana fish, phantom and gray ghost, is definitely a
fish with after burners. Probably pound for pound the strongest and fastest
running fish in salt water. When people ask me what it is like to fight a bonefish, I
tell them to hook a car on the highway. That's a bonefish.
We catch bonefish in the Keys all year round. The spring and fall are probably the
best times of the year to find fish all day long because the water temperatures
are more constant. In the winter, mid day is very good once the water warms up.
And in the summer the morning or late afternoon are best because the water
gets too hot during the day. Bonefish don't like extreme temperatures. My favorite
is in the summer, when it has been hot and calm for many days. If we then get a
rainy overcast day, the bonefish will show up in good numbers and be very
There are three basic ways to fish for bonefish. Some people chum with bits of
shrimp or crab to bring the fish on to the flats. We try to catch them on light tackle
spinning gear or fly. Some anglers will stake up the boat on the edge of the flat
and wait for bonefish to come in with the tide. The third way is to pole the boat
around on the flats and sight fish for them. This is the way I usually look for
bonefish. Sight fishing is when you look for the tails of the fish when they are
digging for food. Or actually see the fish in the clear waters of the Keys. I call this
kind of fishing angling, because it requires more skill than luck. But it always
helps to be lucky.
The tackle I use for bonefish is of two types. Spinning and fly. My spinning rods
are seven feet long with Shimano spinning reels spooled with 250 yards of 8
pound line. The fly rods I use are Penn or Sage foot rods with STH or Penn reels.
I use a 6 weight rod for calm days and bonefish in the 5 to 8 pound range. On
larger fish I use 8 and 9 weight rods. And if it is a bit windy I use a 10 weight rod.
Most anglers I fish, have seen on TV or read about catching bonefish on fly but
have never actually tried it. It is much more challenging than the kind of fly fishing
done on freshwater streams. So don't worry if this is your situation. I am happy to
teach my anglers the art of saltwater fly casting. That is, casts that are 30 to 70
feet long and shooting the line to the target.
Tarpon also called the Silver King, and for good reason! When hooked, this fish
will jump with great acrobatic leaps. They will run you out of line, and if you
haven't lost him yet, battle you till your arms cramp and you can hardly stand . The
tarpon I fish for run from young juniors that weigh 20 pounds to the body busting
Tarpon live in the Keys waters year round. We call these fish resident Tarpon. In
the spring starting in late February the larger migrating tarpon show up to spawn
in our Gulf waters. These fish are coming and going throughout the Keys until
late June. Tarpon that weigh over 200 pounds have been caught at this time of
the year. After the migrating fish have left I catch smaller tarpon which are here
through the summer until the water starts to get cold in the late fall.
I use different size rods depending on where I am fishing for the tarpon and the
size of the fish. I use 8 pound test line spooled on Shimano stradic spinning
reels for small fish that weigh 7 to 20 pounds. 12 pound test line on Penn 550
spinning reels for 20 to 100 pound fish 20 pound test line on Penn 750s for 80 to
100 pound fish when I am using crabs for bait. And 25 pound test line on level
wind reels when I use pin fish for bait and the tarpon are over 100 pounds.
My personal favorite is to catch 100 plus pound tarpon on a fly rod. This is
becoming very popular among northern fly fishermen that come to the Keys. The
Tarpon will take a fly quite readily. The hard part is trying to keep the fish from
jumping off or breaking the tippet. If you are a fly fisherman you must try this at
least once in this lifetime. I use 11 and 12 weight fly rods for large tarpon. And a
10 weight for fish 20 to 50 pounds in weight. My rods are Penn, Loomis and
Sage graphite construction. My reels are STH, Penn and Fin-Nor direct drive. I tie
most of the flies I use. This way I can keep up on the best patterns and colors the
fish are taking at the time.
Permit are the Bulldogs of the flats. They will run long and hard. When you get
them near to the boat , they start running out again like you had just hooked him
up. They will do this several times. After a long while, you think you finally have
the fish tired enough to land him. You get him close to the boat , yelling to your
fishing partner to get the net. The fish just takes off on another long run. Now you
don't know who is more tired, the fish or you. After a while longer and a few more
runs, you finally land the hardest fighting fish you have ever caught on light-tackle.
This is a typical scenario of an encounter with a Permit.
Permit are found in the Keys all year . The best time to find them is late February
to May , and October till the water gets cold. If winter in the Keys is mild and the
wind stays calm, the Permit fishing is red hot! The tackle I use for Permit fishing
is usually spinning. I use 7 foot custom Graphite rods and Shimano spinning
reels with 8 pound test line. If the fish are running over 30 pounds, I use 12
pound test line on Penn 550s.
Catching Permit on fly in the Keys is the most challenging fly fishing you will ever
do. Permit do not eat flies very often. But it can be done. I have had several
anglers hook Permit on fly. I supply fly rods and flies on my charters. I use Penn,
Loomis and Sage fly rods matched with Fin-nor, Penn and STH fly reels.
Redfish are caught in the Everglades National Park. The boundary of the park
starts 2 miles from the Keys shores from Key Largo to Islamorada. A trip into the
park is a must if you are new to fishing in the Keys.
Redfish are what I call a Fly friendly fish. If you have never caught a fish on fly ,
then redfish is the fish for you. They won't give you long runs, But a red in the 7
pound range will give you a respectable battle. They don't spook as easily as
bonefish, and don't often turn down a fly. For anglers who don't fly fish, I supply
ultra light spinning gear. 4 and 6 pound test line provide a challenging fight.
Redfish are found all year, but the best months to find large schools is from
March through October. June , July and August is the best time to find tailing fish.
Snook fishing in the Keys is very good. When they are in the eating mode, you
can catch as many as twenty fish on a trip. Do to the conservation efforts of the
Park the fish are now averaging 10 pounds and up to 20. A 12 pound Snook is
quite a battle on light tackle. They jump, thrash and run. You have to be on the
ball once you hook up a snook, or he will run back into cover or gill the leader.
Anglers who fish a lot for Snook know that the fish can be very finicky . You can
catch Snook on fly , spin or plug. The good thing about using fly is if the fish are
feeding exclusively on bait fish, they can be teased into taking a fly. I use live bait
such as pin fish, pilchards and shrimp. The most popular way is to throw jigs
into pot holes and along snags and shore line.
The Snook is the finest eating fish you will find in saltwater. This is a catch you
will remember in your arms as well as your tummy! Snook fishing is best
September till April. I do allot of night fishing for Snook starting late October
through March. The mosquitoes are not bad during these months.
When I tell my anglers we are going to see a lot of sharks on our trip, they start to
think of Jaws. Well that’s not the case here. A lot of different kinds of sharks live
in the Glades shallow waters. Blacktips, Bonnet, Lemon and Nurse Sharks. All of
which are of no threat to us in the boat.
Sharks provide a great fight , no matter what you use for fishing gear. I catch 50
pound Sharks on 8 pound test line, using just shrimp for bait. Of course you have
to have wire leader on your rig so as to not get bit off. Bonnet sharks will take
long fast runs similar to that of Bonefish. Blacktips will jump and thrash. Lemons
are usually the largest of the Sharks I hook up. They can get up to several
Hundred pounds. People are surprised to see such large sharks in shallow
water. I lose a lot of redfish to these large sharks. I have never heard of anyone
being bitten by a shark on an Everglades fishing trip.
Florida Keys Sport Fishing, Florida Keys Fishing, Key West Fishing
|Sight-fishing has become such a
mainstay of our angling that it
seems natural to keep on the move.
We pole, bump the trolling motor,
wade, paddle, whatever, to cover as
much water as we can. Riddled with
anxiety, our vision of El Dorado is a
square tail flicking above the
surface, maybe a copper missile
crossing a pothole in a grassflat.