Fishing the Florida Keys
The Florida Keys for those of you who haven't been here are a chain of about 1700 islands (or Keys) starting at the southeast end of Florida. Once connected by railroad and now by highway and bridges, the Keys extend from the peninsula near Miami then run south and then curve west towards Key West, then out to the uninhabited Marquesas and Dry Tortugas. Famous for our diverse sport fishing opportunities and diving, the Village of Islamorada, where I live, is know as "the Sportfishing Capital of the World." The city of Key West is the county seat of Monroe County, which covers mostly the Everglades on the mainland, and all of the islands from Key Largo south and west.
Florida City, Flamingo, Biscayne Bay
Florida City, is the closest point on US1 to Flamingo; the mainland’s Southwest corner of the Everglades National Park. Biscayne National Park is in the opposite direction of Flamingo, this area includes a string of keys; Elliot, Ragged Keys, Soldier Key, to mention just a few. These islands form the outer barrier of Biscayne Bay southwest to where it meets Card Sound and the northern end of Key Largo. "Stiltsville," is a unique community of fishing and weekend homes built on pilings on top of the flats, defining the northern region of Biscayne Bay. Water depths vary in Biscayne Bay, from large flats where bonefish frequent, to channels and deeper edges of flats where tarpon and permit, are inhabitants too.
The Upper & Middle Keys
Heading southwest on US 1, you enter the "Keys proper" leaving what we call the “stretch” as you drive southwest along US1, Florida Bay is the large body of water on the right or northwest side of the road. The Florida Straits containing the Gulf Stream to the left or southeast is a narrow body of water in the Atlantic that separates the Florida Keys from Cuba. Florida Bay encircling the coastal Everglades National Park is home to redfish, snook, seatrout, jacks, sharks, snapper, bonefish, tarpon, permit, and many other species too numerous to mention. On the ocean side flats, however, live bonefish, tarpon, and permit; these areas are not productive for snook and redfish.
From Biscayne Bay through the Upper Keys, bonefish are on hand year round, and it is not easy to narrow best time of the year for bonefishing. During summer they require deeper and cooler water during the hottest part of the day, during spring and fall they may stay on the flats all day.
For tarpon in this portion of the Keys, the best times are normally April, May, and June. Tarpon may sometimes start migrating through the area in early March, it all depends upon water temperatures, with warmer waters raising the odds of the fish showing up earlier but possible departing sooner. The migration usually peaks in May and June and will taper off into late July. Throughout the year there are are always tarpon or “locals” around the Keys and in the Everglades but they can be weather dependent.
The Lower Keys
Around Marathon and southwest down to the end of US1, the water on the northwest side begins to open up to the Gulf of Mexico. Further South, Key West may be the end of the road, but not the end of great fly fishing opportunities. The best months for bonefishing in this area of the Keys are considered by for the most part to be March through November. In the winter, the fishing guides from this area frequently trailer their boats to the Upper Keys for bonefishing. Permit also can be found here all year, but hunting them from February and through November is best. Similar to in the Upper Keys, the tarpon begin to show up sometime in late March and April, again depending on existing weather conditions. The peak of their migration occurs generally in May and June, for Key West and the Marquesas.