even on “bad days” shark fishing can
prove exhilarating. a big shark on a fly rod
presents a challenge you’ll never forget.
leFt: Shrimp boat by-catch sparks a tuna
feeding frenzy. capt. r.t. trosset holds up
a nice red grouper.
weather, and the flats come alive. Recently, bonefish have become
relatively scarce in Islamorada, but have increased from Marathon to
Key West. People speculate that the cold snap in January 2010, could
be the reason, or the increase in boat traffic, but the end result is that
the flats fishing in Key West is off-the-charts good, and only getting
better. Key West may very well be the best place in the world to catch
a permit on fly, but don’t overlook the shark fishing.
BackUp Weather planS
There are days everywhere when conditions are just awful and all
your plans are ruined. In the Keys this happens from time to time,
but there’s a backup plan. When the wind is howling, it’s nasty
offshore, and every respectable tarpon and permit has left the flats,
it’s shark time. All you need is a barracuda or two or some bonito
left over from an offshore trip and you’re in business. You can run
across Northwest Channel, between Key West Harbor and the Gulf,
and through the “Lakes” to Boca Grand Key. Hop a little bit farther
north to the edge of the Gulf and you’ll find flats and channels teeming with sharks, especially in March and April. The technique is to
butterfly-fillet the ‘cuda and hang it over the side and drift along. Bull
sharks, lemons, blacktips, and occasionally hammerheads and tiger
sharks pick up the scent and zero right in to the boat. They range in
size from 50 to 500 pounds and can be hooked on any tackle you
prefer. My favorite is fly, but you’ll need a heavy rod and a big orange
fly. A 100-pound blacktip is as strong and fast as anything that swims,
and a big lemon or bull will wear you out.
Years ago, R. T. guided Mike Stidhem to an IGFA-record hammerhead on fly, which is extremely difficult, with only 12 inches of wire
shock tippet. The biggest sharks are on the flats between February
and May, but 100-pounders can be found year round. Spending a day
hooked up to six-foot sharks is one of the most effective ways to learn
how to fight big fish on a fly rod and the best thing is, the nastier the
weather, the better the shark fishing.
During the spring, R. T. and Chris run live-bait trips for tarpon in
the evenings. Depending on the tides, they’ll zip out to one of the
numerous nearby channels with live crabs or leftover threadfins and
anchor. Tarpon seem to hang in the channels every evening from
February through August, even when they aren’t on the flats. Fishing
starts around 5 p.m. and will last until the angler calls it quits. It’s
not unusual to jump a half-dozen tarpon bigger than 100 pounds
in a three-hour trip while you’re watching one of those famous Key
West sunsets. If you’re really lucky and are fishing shortly after the
full or new moon in May and June, you might even hit a palolo worm
hatch, where millions of the tiny worm larvae hatch at once and drift
through the channels providing a feast for tarpon, which is one of the
most amazing experiences you can have in the Keys.
You never know what you’re going to run into in Key West. If
you’re offshore in Key West, you have to be ready to catch whatever
the fish gods send your way. Usually that’s not a problem most
people complain about.