To be honest, I had never seriously considered the Florida Keys as a fishing destination. I thought it would be too crowded and too difficult. Nevertheless, when my girlfriend suggested a trip there last March, I couldn’t resist booking a guided day trip. I contacted the Angling Company in Key West and was set up with John Benvenuto.
When our day finally arrived, I met John at one of the launch ramps right in the heart of Key West. You can’t beat that kind of convenience! I had expressed an interest in trying for ‘cuda and John pointed the boat directly towards one of his favorite ‘cuda flats.
Over the course of the 30 minute boat ride, I saw perhaps one other boat in the distance. When we got there, there were no boats to be seen at all. The flat was up against the shoreline of a large, deserted mangrove cay and there was not a single indication of civilization, even in the distance. We could have been deep in the bowels of the Bahamas, or even Cuba…
The flat was gin clear and knee deep. It had a liberal sprinkling of mangrove clumps all over it. John knotted a needlefish imitation onto my 10 weight and gave me a quick lesson in the two-handed stripping technique needed to entice our targets. Very shortly, the cuda started popping up – lots of them. And nice-size ones, too. Most were between two and three feet. However, the wind and the mangrove clumps made the presentations very challenging.
John made some radical poling maneuvers to help find me casting lanes between the clumps of mangroves. I probably had shots at somewhere between fifteen and twenty fish. Although a few of those were high quality shots, I could only manage a couple looks. Barracuda are lot smarter than most people think; none of them committed to an eat.
After a morning of chasing barracuda, we looked for tarpon. John took me to a HUGE expanse of a flat, far removed from any land. It was the kind of classic tarpon flat I had only seen pictures of up til that point. The bottom was light-colored sand with a healthy dose of dark patches. Again, there were no other boats around. The only reminder of civilization was the roar of the odd military jet taking off from an unseen base.
John tied a small, dark, marabou pattern onto my 12 weight. It was not too different from the kind of fly I might throw at a smallmouth bass but I was glad it was on the end of a 12 weight. We saw four pods of tarpon in total. Although there was a lot of poling between them, each group was the kind of experience where adrenaline floods the system…
Unlike the fleeting glimpses of a shadowy bonefish in the distance, there was no mistaking four or five approaching tarpon; their dark shapes were like large, undulating logs. A couple groups turned before I could get a decent cast off. The remaining two pods were a little more accommodating, however. One held a fish that actually ate. I saw the little fly go into its mouth, and grabbed my line for the strip strike, Aargh! I could not get a grip on my line. The little fly reappeared outside the tarpon’s mouth and the tarpon melted away.
This happened within 20 feet of the boat. The tarpon was about 5 feet long and I got a very good look at those proverbial silver dollar sized eyes. Although, I didn’t catch a fish that day, it was still TOTALLY worth it. I highly recommend a day of guided fishing if you are ever in the Keys.
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According to John, March is a good time to go fishing around Key West because the tarpon are starting to show and the barracuda are very active. There is even the possibility of permit. (We actually spooked one of those on the barracuda flat.)
There is an incredible variety of things to do in the Keys….Kayaking in John Pennekamp State Park, snorkeling off Key West, biking through the deer refuge on Big Pine Key, strolling along Duval Street, touring Hemingway’s house and hangouts….These are all great experiences.
Feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s was something I definitely couldn’t pass up. It was very cool to come face-to-face with these creatures. (Just make sure you guard your bait bucket from the squads of skilled and pushy pelicans that patrol the dock at Robbie’s.)
DIY wade fishing is very possible off many access points throughout the Keys. Even if you don’t catch something – I didn’t – the very act of looking for bonefish is quite invigorating.
My day of fishing with John must have been quite intense because I – very uncharacteristically – failed to take pictures when I was on his boat. So the only pictures accompanying this article are general scenery shots of the Keys.
And one more for good measure…
Hope you enjoyed the pictures, thanks for reading!