Section Three – Biscayne Bay and the Keys
Shadowed by the Miami skyline, this is where the Florida Keys begin. The gin clear water off Key Biscayne has miles of grass flats along with shallow hard bottom with both soft and hard coral growing on them. Biscayne Bay has some of the largest Bonefish in the world. Several world record bonefish have come from these waters. Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit. Barracuda and sharks are some of the main species of fish to be targeted off Key Biscayne and the Florida Keys.
Bonefish, also known as the gray ghost of the flats, with his silver sides, allows him to reflect any type of bottom that he might swim over just like a mirror. Some of the situations you may expect to see while fishing for bonefish. During lower stages of the tide or when viability is low, I’ll try to look for tailing bonefish. This is when a school or maybe single bonefish is rooting around the bottom looking for food. In very shallow water, his tail pops up and breaks the surface of the water. This is called tailing. A tailing bone fish is probably the most difficult situation to catch a bone fish but also the most exciting way to fish for them. Imagine a 6 or 7 inch tail popping up in front of you, just waving around almost taunting you as if to say ‘Catch me if you can!’. You may also see cruising bonefish. This is where they could be moving to another spot or looking for some food depending on their speed. You may also come across mudding bone fish. This is where bonefish may have found something (shrimp or crab) on the bottom and are rooting them out, sucking in some sand or mud off the bottom and blowing it out through their gills. This is the best situation for catching bonefish. One, they are feeding! Two, They’re not as spooky because their guard is down and their visibility is restricted due to them mudding the area. A shrimp, crab or fly placed right into their feeding zone usually will result in a hookup fight. Pound for pound A bonefish is the strongest fish that swims the flats.
Permit, some of the situations you may encounter while permit fishing. You may find permit tailing also. These fish average 15 to 25 lbs. They have a large sickle tail that when it comes out of the water is truly a sight to behold. I prefer to use small crabs for them on light line so that you may make a long accurate cast. And it will take the perfect cast to get a tailing permit. You will also find Permit cruising along looking for some sign of food. You will also see them mudding and this, of course, is the best way to get a hookup. Permit can also be found just floating on the surface doing something that is referred to as spiking. This is where their dorsal and tail fin just stick up above the water’s surface. Sometimes there’s just one or two, 20 or even 100 of them.
Tarpon – I’ll briefly describe some of the situations you may encounter while Tarpon fishing around the Keys and Key Biscayne. I’m mainly going to cover fly fishing for them. But there is some excellent bait and plug casting for Tarpon here. Fly fishing for Tarpon around Key Biscayne and the Florida Keys is as Billy Pate sums it up best “The ultimate in Fly Fishing”. Imagine fishing in gin clear water and seeing a school of 10 to 20 or even 100 Tarpon high and happy just gulping air every so often. That’s when you see just how huge the fish really are, maybe a 120 pounder rolls in front of you, his back 8 inches across and over 6 feet long. You have to wait for what may seem an eternity You get your chance, you place the fly just in front of the lead fish. That Tarpon comes up and sips it gently or may crash and rip that fly off the surface so fast that you barely have time to react.
You may also find yourself casting to what is called a daisy chain. This must be some type of mating ritual.. I’ve seen a school of 10 to 20 or up to 200 to 300 fish all swimming nose to tail, in a circle either clockwise or counter-clockwise. This is important to know because it will determine just where you will need to place your fly. This is just one of the many amazing acts of nature you may encounter.
Certain areas around the Florida Keys has what is called the Palalo worm hatch. This occurs near the full moons during May and June. When these little worms swarm, this can bring Tarpon by the thousands. You will see 60 to 150 lb Tarpon sipping these worms right off the water’s surface. It’s probably one of the strangest and most magnificent events in nature to take place in the Florida Keys. I’m always amazed at how many Tarpon will appear from the middle of nowhere. All of a sudden, it’s Tarpon as far as the eye can see.
Barracuda This is one of the most underrated game fish that you can encounter in Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. If you like top water lure fishing, you’ll love fishing for Barracuda. Using light weight spinning or plug tackle and you’re casting top water lures as far as you can, retrieving them with a fast retrieve. The Barracuda will just crash the lure with some spectacular strikes.