Key West

Friday, February 24, 2012 , , , , 3 Comments

Last week I went to Key West to join my family for a much needed vacation and partake in some flats fishing. The weather was beautiful, water was warm, and the scenery phenomenal. Now back in dreary Kansas I can only hope to return soon.

I had a great time. I was able to catch my first saltwater fish, had opportunities for several species, and learned a lot. I fished both on my own and with guide Captain Mike Bartlett. I have linked both his guiding page and blog through this website.

Thursday began my time spent on the water. I teamed up with Mike and headed towards some flats south of Key West. Not long after arriving we spotted a trio of Blacktip Sharks, one of which was super hot on some baitfish. Mike asked if I wanted to go after them and of course I said yes. I threw a tube to them but just as quickly as the action started it seemed to end and the sharks were gone. Had I caught one I am sure I would have shit myself. 

Next we proceeded to another flat in search of Bonefish and Permit. Not too much going on there, and we never did see any bonefish the entire trip and would only see one Permit that day, which was headed 30 mph in the opposite direction. 
We hit one more flat before we needed to go pickup my father so he could join us. There I got the opportunity to throw several flies at Bonnethead Sharks, but my inexperience as a saltwater fly angler shown through and I am certain I made almost every mistake I could. 

After we picked up my father we decided to chase Jacks on Ray's. Meaning Jack Crevalles were holding tight to Sting Ray's as they fed on the flats hoping for an opportunistic meal. What Mike would do was search the water for evidence of a mud, or feeding sting ray and then my father and I would throw a fly at the Ray hoping the accompanying Jack would snatch up the fly. Unfortunately for us, clouds made the visibility poor and the majority of Sting Ray's were without Jacks. I did hook into one Jack briefly but lost him as he charged the boat, dislodging the fly. 

We ended the day looking for Tarpon, but the spot we tried was inhabited by a pod of Dolphins who most likely discouraged the presence of any resident Tarpon. 

The next morning headed to Bahia Honda State Park to wade fish, a place a friend of mine had hooked into a Permit and I had heard stories of Bonefish. As a novice flats angler, and not knowing what to expect, I tied on a small Clouser and headed off looking for fish. Unfortunately, the only fish I saw were small groups of Needlefish, which I always saw too late and made desperate cast towards.

My respect for flats fishing by wading greatly increased that morning. Wading knee to waist deep, your visibility is greatly reduced and as your sight fishing stealth and awareness are keen. However, the scenery was great and water warm, so no complaints from me. Further I did see some crabs and even a pufferfish on my walk back to the beach. 

That evening I headed to White Pier in Key West itself. Talking to an employee at the Saltwater Angler Fly Shop in Key West I learned that often Snook and Tarpon would inhabit that waters at night, hunting the baitfish which were attracted to the light. I did see several large Snook and a small Tarpon but couldn't get anything to commit to the various flies I presented.

Saturday morning I went back out with Mike, hoping to wipe the skunk off my previous attempts. We first went to a very shallow flat looking for Redfish feeding on Mullet. We saw a few Redfish but they were all headed away from the boat rather quickly, but I still made a few casts. In the same area I did get another opportunity to throw a fly at Bonnethead's'. I didnt make the mistakes I made the previous day, but set my hook by lifting on the rod rather than punching the line. I had the fish on for maybe 20 seconds before he got off.

Mike and I then headed in search of Tarpon laying up in the flats. Difficult to see at first, the Tarpon looked like sedentary logs through the water. Mike estimated they were around 80 or so lbs. I was able to cast with a fly to two of them, but my accuracy wasn't as precise with an 11 weight as I would have hoped and the Tarpon didn't seem too interested. 

We then proceeded to the next flat in search of Barracuda and a change of luck. We saw quite a few and they were easy to spot in the crystal clear water and light sand. The first fish I cast into I was able to connect with. Finally! I hooked into him with a yellow tube on spinning gear and to my surprise he took off beyond my field of vision. I couldn't believe how fast my line left the spool or how fast he was. It was beyond my expectations of how a saltwater fish would fight. I am fairly certain I let out a few excited utterances. The fight didn't last too long but its intensity and speed were unmatched by any fish I have ever encountered. He even jumped for me. 

The sound of ones drag is by far one of the sexiest sounds for any angler.

20 lb. Great Barracuda. 

Look at those teeth!

Given my love for Muskellunge, I couldn't help but think of them when I caught this guy. 

Mike with the release. 

You can't imagine how relieved Mike and I were to finally have the skunk off me. This was my fourth outing throwing line in Key West and second time out with Mike. It was great to finally have that line tight. I threw to a few other Barracudas  in around the area without success and then decided to move to another location that would be more promising for permit and Tarpon. 

This is where I have to give Mike a lot of credit. In a flats situation, you have to listen and trust you guide. With their experience and vantage point they can see and detect fish much better than you. Mike called out Permit at my 12, seventy-five feet or so. I couldn't really see anything but made a cast right to that spot and almost instantaneously the line took off. My main remark is that my respect for Permit quadrupled. They are strong and give a long and thorough fight. He came several times to the boat before taking of again. Permit as a species gained enormous respect and admiration from me that day: for their fight, beauty, and the skill required to catch them. 

My very first Black-Tailed Devil. 15 lb Permit. I was truly surprised how beautiful it was. 

Soon after, I spotted Tarpon rolling in the distance. I had seen videos of this, but in person it was extraordinary. The closest similarity I can think of is to Dolphins. By the time we got to where they were positioned they were too deep to go after on a fly rod so I threw on a swimbait and made a few casts. The line went tight, but not too tight.... I hadn't caught a Tarpon but instead a tiny Jack Crevalle. The same species we had been targeting earlier on the backs of Stingray's. This guy was just a runt compared however. 

Well, that was my fishing experience in Key West. Honestly, it was amazing. I was able to cast to Redfish, Needlefish, Permit, Bonnethead Sharks, Blacktip Sharks, Tarpon, Jacks, and Barracuda. Granted I only caught three fish and none on a fly rod, yet honestly it didn't matter. I learned so much, believe I came back a more proficient caster. Yet, most importantly was the experience, the beautiful scenery, and memories for a lifetime. 

Finally, for anyone headed to Key West  I would highly recommend Mike Bartlett. He was great, very patient as I learned the ropes--especially on a fly rod, was able to effectively get me with my range, and was great company. Again for those interested I have posted links on my blog if you want to contact him. 


Love Key West!! I can almost taste the conch fritters sitting here thinking about it. Looks like you had a great time on the water as well , barracuda..jacks and even a permit , can't beat that for sure.
Congrats on the permit , from what I hear they're amazingly tough to catch. The last time I was down I wade fished Bahia Honda with the flyrod and got skunked but still had a great time.
Good Stuff.....

Atlas said...

When you were at Bahia did you see any fish? I hear its dynamite during the palolo worm hatch. I also know Capt. Soddie caught a permit there. All I saw was needlefish. Though I would have like to catch one anyhow.

And thank you, yes my respect for Permit is through the roof after that trip.

I didn't see anything to speak of when I was there last spring. I only had one afternoon to work with and probably spent 2-3 hours walking the shoreline. I probably wasn't in the best of spots...left the wife on the little beach on the front side and then walked around the corner and onto the windward side of the park. Still enjoyed it....