On the Flats

Fishing Report Feb. 2001
Spring is coming fast and the temperatures are higher than normal for the most part. This is jump starting the spring season of great fishing here in South Florida. Reports are starting to come in of the Tarpon schooling and starting the run south down the outside of Elliot key and points south, with as many as five to eight schools spotted daily. It is a little early for this kind of action and if the slightest cold front comes in it will be halted in its tracks, but for now bring your 11 wt. and keep an eye out during the incoming tide stages. The incoming tides help push these slow swimming Tarpon closer to the shorelines and into the same old travel lanes that they have been using for years. I wouldn't target tarpon for anything but a strong incoming tide phase.
Reports of permit schooling have been echoing as well. Fishing the first week in February we saw three schools on the outside of the south Garden Cove flats that had numbers of fish in the twenties, and several other schools of less fish. Bringing two fish to photo is a good day although we were using live crabs due to the 25 knot east winds and the nasty chop that comes with it. These fish will be on the outer flats that have an edge that drops off to deeper water rather quickly for a quick escape off the flats if danger appears. Fishing the Rabbit Key Basin the following few days we also saw more than our fare share of permit on the flats west of Twin Keys. We were fishing the new Mako 2000 inshore flats boat from Lighthouse Boat Center because I had three anglers that wanted to fish together for bones, permit and tarpon. The 20 footer gave me the option of running in that nasty chop and still poling in ten inches of water. The rays and black tip sharks were everywhere, and we saw two schools of young tarpon in the drift as well.
The bones were noticeably absent from the scenario until we hit the flats on the backside of Shell key, but even then they were only a small showing. The majority of bonefish we have been seeing are in south Biscayne Bay and on the outside all the way down to the Garden Cove Flats. I have had success at finding fish on the later stages of the high tides tailing up in the super shallows. Our low tides have been exaggerated to the extreme as of the last month, and the bones are going shallow to find a meal at the high water marks.
Fishing the Arsnicker Keys is always a challenge, but I have been finding a lot of tailing fish here in the wind and waves. It is much more difficult to find with the conditions as they are, but if you look for the slightest bit of mud, or key in on the rays you will find them. To get close enough to them to make a presentation is where you need a guide ......... well ... OK ... just approach from the up wind side for the longest cast possible, and use the quietest fly presentation possible and you should be in business. These bones are the largest I've seen in the area and they are so very smart, so use your best hunting skills to approach them.
It seems that the March winds are a bit early as well as the nice temperatures, well the sooner they come, the sooner they are done, right? Remember to clean your fly lines and change out your monofiliment lines in preparation of the spring Tarpon season and I'll see you "On the Flats."
Captain Dave Sutton is a full time fishing guide in Biscayne Bay, the upper Keys and the Everglades National Park, an outdoor writer, and a guest fly tying instructor at Biscayne Fly Shop, a guide for the famous Ocean Reef Outfitters. The captain wants to here your stories, comments or just to book a trip call (305) 248-6126 His E-mail address is djsutton@bellsouth.net and the Website is www.saltwater-flyfisherman.com