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Prime Time for an Inshore Super Grand Slam in Islamorada
From late summer into early autumn, the flats of the Florida Keys are prime territory for scoring an inshore super grand slam of bonefish, tarpon, permit and snook– all caught in one day. And as if that’s not enough, anglers and guides routinely pile on with sea trout, redfish, tripletail, and others.
“Everything is available fish species-wise,” said noted South Florida light-tackle guide captain Andy Thompson. “The options are pretty endless. You can sight-fish on the flats. You can fish the island moats, the channels, spin fishing or fly rod.”
Thompson, who runs a 17-foot Hells Bay Biscayne skiff, fishes the entire region from Biscayne Bay south to the Lower Keys, including Flamingo and Chokoloskee in Everglades National Park. He’s especially fond of September-October because water and air temperatures grow cooler, tides are higher and the flats are not crowded with other guides and anglers.
“The permit fishing in September/October is really good,” Thompson said. “With bigger tides, the back country banks behind Islamorada get a lot more water in the fall and that allows those fish to feed.”
The best bait is a live crab (or a crab imitation if you insist on fly fishing) cast to fish feeding on the edges of channels and along narrow, rocky strip banks on the ocean side and bayside of the Keys where currents are strong. Permit also can be found around shallow wrecks and the U.S. 1 bridges.
Continuing the inshore superfecta with tarpon may also be easier in fall than during the peak of the summer spawn. Thompson says plenty of juvenile tarpon can be found along the ocean side islands of the Upper Keys and in Florida Bay near Flamingo. In October, he often finds a resident population of 100-pounders that are “laid up” and easy to cast to with a live mullet or Deceiver-pattern fly. But some of the easiest fish to target are the ones following the fall mullet run all along the southwest Florida coast.
The seasonal bait frenzy also occurs on the ocean side of the Keys where huge schools of pilchards can be seen swirling and flashing. Just about anything can be found harassing these forage fish — tarpon, sharks, snook, and jacks, among others. Snook are also plentiful on the crowns of the Florida Bay flats on an incoming tide, and often accompanied by redfish. Thompson goes after them using primarily pearl-colored soft plastic jerkbaits such as the D.O.A. C.A.L., but topwater plugs also can be effective if there’s not too much floating grass.
Catching and releasing a bonefish is not as tough in Florida Bay as in recent years, according to Thompson. While their numbers are down considerably from the 1980s, Thompson says the torpedo-shaped silver speedsters are starting to recover.
“There’s a lot of little fish in Florida Bay,” he said. “The 2010 freeze put a hurtin’ on them. But just this year, I started to see good numbers of them again around Rabbit Key and the Arsenicker Keys. There’s a whole new class of fish showing up. It’s encouraging.”
The guide and his customers target them with live shrimp, small crabs, small skimmer jigs or shrimp-patterned flies.
To book a fishing trip with Thompson, go HERE. To book your stay at the Islander, a Guy Harvey Outpost in Islamorada, visit the Guy Harvey Outpost web site.