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September 12, 2013

Hit the Road: Two must-fish Gulf destinations

These great Gulf spots prove anglers don’t have to travel far to find opportunistic waters. Bonus: no passport required.

#1: The Keys

Florida’s expansive coastline is chock full of unbelievable fisheries, but out of all of them, it’s hard to find any that are as diverse as south Florida and, more specifically, the Everglades and the Florida Keys. It’s just one of those destinations that offer days during certain times of the year when it becomes a challenge to decide what game fish to target. Bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook and redfish are just a handful of options to be found in the skinny water, while offshore, anglers can chase myriad species including blackfin tuna, dolphin, sailfish, king mackerel and more. It’s almost impossible to list all the available options enjoyed by fly-anglers in this region. These waters have become iconic due to the legendary guides that have poled and continue to pole them. Guiding in the Glades and the Keys separates the men from the boys, meaning, in order to make it, you can’t fake your way through. The fish here are said to be the most educated fish in the world, which means they aren’t very forgiving. 


Anglers traveling the southern end of the Sunshine State can absolutely have great fishing 365 days of the year (as long as the weather cooperates), but nothing can rival the intensity of tarpon season in the Glades and the Keys. It’s a time of year that many wait on much like children wait on Christmas. Come May, when the tarpon start swimming strong, by and large that’s what practically every guide is chasing. As far as tarpon fishing goes, the Glades and the Keys are textbook examples of everything you read about: Laying up fish, cruising fish, rolling fish and daisy-chaining fish are all scenarios that take place in these waters. If you come to land a silver king, book early — no joke — guides get booked solid very early. 


Fishing the flats for permit is yet another opportunity in south Florida, and it can be quite good, if you bring your A-game, that is. Permit will always be permit in the sense that they will always be a challenge, no matter what, but using a quality guide will certainly increase your odds and will provide you with ample shots at quality fish. Spring is a great time to target these wily, blunt-face, finicky fish — when you go, book several days to ensure you get the
full experience. 


As far as bonefishing goes, well, many feel that the Florida Keys have the largest bones in the world, but just as many feel they are the most challenging bones to be found anywhere. In some places in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, bonefish practically go out of their way to eat flies. This is not the case in the Keys at all. You’ve got to sweet-talk each one. To boot, this part of Florida is the only place in the country where anglers can have the chance at achieving a grand slam (catching a bonefish, permit and tarpon in a single day). 


In addition to great fishing, the Florida Keys are, plain and simple, a cool place to be. Interestingly, each island that makes up the “Keys” seemingly has its own unique culture, and the same is true for the Everglades. That being said, these two legendary hot spots have at least one thing in common, and that’s a laid-back atmosphere that’s incredibly hard to find. From the Glades, to Islamorada, to Marathon and down to Key West, there’s something for everyone. This is a place where all you need to bring is a will to fish, a thirst for a cocktail or two and the desire to kick back and relax.