by Capt Bruce Chard
For years the Florida Keys have been known as a great spring fishery. What I am going to share with you might be the best kept secret in all the Florida Keys. As winter arrives, anglers are dreaming of getting away from the cold and into the warm tropical waters of the Florida Keys. The fall months in the Florida Keys are some of the best fishing months of the year. The combination of good fishing, hunting season opening, school starting back up, up coming holidays and cool comfortable temperatures all around the U.S. has led to low numbers of fisherman traveling to the Florida keys in September, October, and November. But what they don't know might hurt them!
As the water temperature slowly cools down from the scorching summer heat the fishing does nothing but heat up. Bonefish love this temperature change, they start to gather into larger schools, and invade the flats with a vengeance. Water temperature in the fall gets to a perfect 78-84 degrees and that makes the fishing great all day long. The temperature does not go up or down enough during the day to make the fishing any better in the morning verses the evening, so the fish will feed heavily and tail all day. If you like to fish to tailing fish then you will love fall Bonefishing in the Keys. I call the month of October "Rocktober" for the great tailing action. Big single bones will come onto the flats at low tide in inches of water with there backs hanging out in search for big crabs to help plump up for the winter months. Your chance of catching a 12-pound trophy Bone is best in Roctober! You can fish these hot tailing fish from a skiff, wading, or with my favorite, the kayak. Covering ground on the flat is not a problem with a kayak, it is faster than wading and polling the skiff. Kayaks float shallower than a skiff and are more maneuverable. See a fish working down the flat, hop in the yak, and you're there in a minute taking a shot. Since Rocktober is tailer heaven the flies that take these big bones are crab patterns and big shrimp patterns, which also can be affective flies for the elusive permit.
Fly fishing for permit in the fall can be just as good as the Bonefishing. Permit is a fish that lives on the reefs and wrecks in deeper water and come to the flats around the Keys to feed. As the flats cool down from the cold fronts the permit are more tolerable to the cooler water temperatures and can be found along the deeper edges of banks, pot holes, and side channels looking for their favorite meal the crab. These fish will also move up on the flat as shallow as possible tailing and some times swimming on their side in search for food. When permit are tailing, they are scouring the bottom with a passion in search of crabs. Sticking their nose in the mud and rocks rooting out crabs, permit will suck the crab into their throat, smash the shell in their crushers and then spit out the shell all within 3 seconds. While doing all this digging on the bottom, if the water is shallow enough the permits tail will show through the surface giving away their location to the angler. Then the fly caster takes his shot on the permit and tries to land the fly as close to the permits head as possible. When the fly hits the water hopefully the permit will be startled and take a reaction strike on the fly thinking it is crab diving to the bottom to hide. While looking for permit in the small side channels along the flats you might have a chance to cast to a baby tarpon.
Tarpon fishing in the fall for residential fish can be equivalent to some of the best tarpon fishing of the year. Night fishing for these fish can be unbelievable when the ballyhoo, shrimp, and fall run mullet get swept through the channels in the tide. The fish will hang out 2 feet below the surface of the water and let the falling tide suck the bait by their head which makes for an easy meal, and great night time fly fishing for tarpon up to 80 pounds. Baby tarpon up to 50 pounds are present on the flats through out all the Keys and back country islands. A trip to any number of spots can reveal happy rolling baby tarpon along mangrove edges and laid up schools of fish on shallow flats making for great sight fishing with a 10 wt. Some larger tarpon will fallow the fall run of mullet through the Keys and can be caught up to 100 pounds in many of the same areas. Tarpon are temperamental to the weather so the better the weather the better the tarpon fishing.
The weather in the fall is calm and 75 to 85 degrees. Although the media, and the weather channel make sure that the hurricane season is blown out of proportion the truth is the Florida Keys have an average storm of once every 10 years. Don't let the hype of hurricane season change your decision on fishing in Florida in the fall.
For a change from the flats fly fishing try some offshore reef and wreck fly fishing where the numbers of species of fish can reach double digits. Along the reef on the Atlantic Ocean side with a 9-10 wt fly rod an angler can have the chance to catch Bonita, Blackfin Tuna, Permit, Dolphin, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Cero Mackerel, Cobia, Big Bar Jacks, Jack Cravelle, Amberjacks, African Pompano, Snappers, Barracuda, and the occasional Sailfish. Travel through the bridge to the Gulf of Mexico where some of the most incredible wrecks in the world are loaded with a large variety of fish, which are easily targeted by fly anglers. Bluefish, Sea Trout, Grouper, Cobias, Jack Cravelle, Spanish and Cero Mackerel, Snappers, Barracudas, Permit, all kinds of Sharks, and the occasional Redfish round up some of the fish that can be targeted. So, for the angler that wants a little variety, my friend Capt. Danny Strub has spent a lifetime learning how to catch all these fish for his customers aboard the Mean Marlene II a 25-ft custom sport fisherman designed for fly fishing. To book an unforgettable fly fishing trip aboard the Mean Marlene II with Capt. Danny Strub calls 305-743-0501 or email email@example.com. For the flats fishing trip of a lifetime call me Capt. Bruce Chard toll free at 888-FLY-FISH, 305-872-4996, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.