Light tackle flats fishing in Key West
Fishing the flats in Key West is not only for fly fishing as some make it out to be. All these fish would most often just love a nice juicy chunk of bait or a live crab or shrimp. For anglers who are comfortable with a spinning rod or may just get frustrated with fly fishing and want to put down the fly rod for a moment, light tackle fishing on the flats is fun and exciting.
Fishing for Tarpon on the flats requires some patience. Tarpon do not tend to go out of their way to eat. More often you need to put the bait or plug right in front of them and if it looks good, they’ll eat it. In Key West we often fish for tarpon with live mullet or live pinfish. The best way is to rig the bait so it is able to swim freely and attach a small float further up the line. This is a good indicator for the angler to watch as he or she lets line out as the bait moves in the current. This is done on the deeper flats near channels around the lower Keys. It can often be very productive in the late day and into early evening. One of the most highly recommended trips is a night tarpon trip. The conditions have to be right but it’s a very fun experience to jump tarpon on a plug lure. We most often count jumps of tarpon because some take so long to land that eventually they chaffe the line and get away. The fight for a larger tarpon can often last hours and it not only hurts you it can hurt the fish and make it so tired it can’t swim.
Permit fish are part of the jack family. They are sleek and silver and often very large. They are skinny in width but make up for it in their overall oval shape. Their shape helps them fight when they are hooked and gives them an advantage. Permit love live blue crabs. They feed on them in grass on the flats. During certain times of the year, the blue crabs ‘hatch’ and are found floating and clinging on to grass weeds. You might see a permit feeding on the surface with it’s entire head out of the water.
Bonefish are sleek and stealth like. Often we have anglers on the boat that have a hard time seeing them. They seem to blend in to certain types of flat bottom like darker green grass. Bonefish love shrimp and that is one way to get them lured into an area is to throw out a couple chunks of fresh shrimp. The flats to the east of Key West seem to hold the most bonefish. They are found in only certain areas west of Key West. The east flats are beautiful white sandy bottom and not only make for a picturesque fishing experience but it is a heck of a lot easier to spot these bonefish on white sand.