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April 22, 2013

Fishing Florida Bay and Everglades National Park

The Florida Bay backcountry provides world-class flats fishing in a national-park setting.

Vast Options

After catching a couple of reds around islands in the center of the main bay, we moved into Madeira Bay, a few miles east of Flamingo. We poled a lee shoreline and ­successfully picked off a few more redfish that we spotted cruising down the shoreline. Accurate casts are obviously a necessity, as the fish swim tight to the shore in many instances, and you need to place your bait or lure right by their nose.

We later moved toward Flamingo, and set up poling a flat near Frank Key. “Some of the best fishing in the bay can be found right out in front of Flamingo,” Klein said. “I like to work those flats on the bottom of the falling tide and then the first two hours of the rise. You’ll see an amazing number of fish right there.” 

The flat in question runs east and west for several miles, just north of Frank and Murray keys, less than two miles from the Flamingo boat ramp. Once again, look for potholes in the grass flats and telltale signs of fish moving in the form of mud trails.

Keep Pushin’

Another highly productive spot lies just east of Flamingo, in Snake Bight, which is now almost entirely a no-combustible-motor zone, having been designated a pole-and-troll-only area by the park service. A deep channel along the western edge of the Bight leads north toward the mainland, and it’s a hugely popular place to fish on falling tides, as numerous sloughs drain into the channel, washing along bait.

“Snake Bight channel is a great spot and it holds a lot of fish,” Klein said, “but it can get really crowded, especially on weekends.” For those who don’t mind using a push pole or an electric trolling motor, the huge area of flats east into Snake Bight proper provide some truly amazing action for redfish and snook. Just make sure not to get caught in there when the tide falls, as much of the area dries on certain low rides, and you could be there awhile.

Klein and I scored on many nice redfish, plus a decent trout or two and a few small snook — not tournament winners but fun all the same. Our fishing over the course of the ­tournament took us from west of Flamingo to Madeira Bay, with lots of ­islands in between; we covered a lot of territory, but that’s what’s great about fishing Florida Bay — territory abounds.

Grab Bag

A week after the tournament, I returned to the shoreline of the mainland in my own boat, tossing Gulp! lures along a sand beach on a falling tide. My wife, Poppy, and I had a blast releasing several nice redfish and a speckled trout or two, but on a subsequent cast, a huge boil erupted around my lure, and a second later, a snook who will never see 20 pounds again cleared the surface. He put up a spirited fight, but I had him boat-side in a few minutes, where he proceeded to throw my hook as I tried to grab his jaw for a photo.

That’s Florida Bay fishing. You never know what you’re going to encounter. Deep in the park, expect snook, redfish and trout, and along the outer edges to the west and south, you can also find world-class fishing for bonefish, tarpon and permit, the latter two on a seasonal basis. This diverse list of prime species isn’t available in many other spots, especially in the continental U.S.

It’s almost overkill to mention the area’s natural beauty. Great fishing found in a gorgeous setting compels us to declare Florida Bay to be Florida’s best inshore hot spot. 

Islamorada Backcountry Tackle Box

Rods: Light spinning rods suitable for 8- to 12-pound-test monofilament, or braid to suit

Reels: 3500 to 4500 size spinning reels with smooth drags, capable of holding 200 yards of 8- or 12-pound mono, or equivalent braid

Leader: Nylon or fluorocarbon monofilament leader, 20- to 40-pound-test. Nylon mono works fine in muddy ­water, but switch to fluorocarbon when things clear up.

Lures/Baits: Skimmer jigs tipped with shrimp, Bass Assassins, D.O.A. Shrimp, Gulp! Lures, Mister Twister Slug lures. Effective live baits include live shrimp on popping corks, and live pilchards.