Salt Water Flats Fishing

We like to fish on the shallow saltwater flats of South Florida. So much that first my brother, then my parents have moved down there. Of course, we have to go visit them, and for years we would spend 2-3 weeks a year fishing for Bonefish, Tarpon, and other flats fish around Islamorada and Tavernier. It's harder to get away when the kids are in High School and College, but it's still one of my favorite things to do. Note: All fish were released unharmed!




Stuart recently decided he was ready to catch a bonefish on his own. While the rest of the family was taking a break, he was out watching from the dock, as we often saw bonefish there in the evening. Sure enough he saw one, grabbed hooks from my tacklebox, tied it on, got a shrimp out of the live well and cast at the fish. Normally they are very spooky and wise to the ways of dock fisherman, but Stuart must have had the touch, as the fish ate his shrimp. Of course, lot's of yelling, running and pointing occurred by both adults and kids as he fought the fish and tried to keep it away from pilings, etc.

My brother made it down to the beach just in time to help him land and release the fish. You can tell they are both excited! As they should be.... it's a nice fish. We should not have been surprised..... this is not Stuart's largest bonefish. The previous trip he caught one over 36". For reference, the world record bonefish in 1976 was 36", so that's a big fish!


This is another large bonefish I caught out of Jeff's boat. Probably Snake Harbor or Tavernier key flat



This is a large Permit I caught while sight fishing in 1-2 feet of water in Islamorada. It was 33" long (fork length), and according to age/weight tables is over 25 years old and weight in the 30 lb. range. This is a 98th percentile fish for the keys and I feel quite fortunate to caught such a large one on our first attempt. 

I have to give my brother lot's of credit for talking me into giving it a try, poling us on the flat and initially spotting the fish. (I was grumbling about buying the crabs, as I thought our chances of seeing permit were nil!) Until recently we had not fished for Permit much, but decided to give it a try as the bonefishing was slow. We tried a spot suggested by a friend, and surprise, saw a permit within 50 yards of where we started.  The Permit chased down my small crab like he was starving. About 20 minutes later we boated him, took this photo, then released him to make more permit. I'm hooked! 

We've reached the conclusion that Permit are far more common than we realized, but are so subtle in their actions that they are often missed. Learning how they behave and how subtle the signs are has helped. We'll be fishing for permit far more!

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I love to catch Tarpon. For a short period in 1999, we had a Tarpon hole identified that almost guaranteed one or more large fish. It was not flyfishing, nor really sightcasting. But you could hook up and fight big fish until you were too tired to continue, usually about 2-3 fish. Understand that they will run about 200 yards or more  pulling enough drag to move the boat along behind them! A typical tarpon fight is about 20-30 minutes of hard work.

The fish shown on the left is one of a dozen or more I caught that year. A neighbor of my brother's is holding the fish as I unhook it. This one had really shaken his head as I pulled him out of the water. I found out later that the head shaking had torn many ligaments in my thumbs and left me in a cast for weeks!

My wife Ann has caught large tarpon like this, and Stuart hooked one on our last trip. It's my fault that it broke off, as we had been catching huge sharks, and I had tightened his drag up thinking it was a shark. Applying more pressure caused the fish to surface enough that we could see the "Silver King" just before the line parted. The whole family was annoyed at me for that! (Hey, I had a good excuse, Ann had just fought a huge shark to the boat. It was the width of the boat, which means it was over 8' long. Needless to say, we broke it off intentionally once we had a good look at it. )

Boat Camping

This is our boat. It's a 1988 Maverick 18' Master Angler with a 130 Yamaha. It's ideal for flats fishing, though we use it in freshwater and for skiing & tubing as well. It's quite versatile, and we occasionally camp in it as shown in these photo's. The tent fly keeps us dry, yet allows a breeze through. It's really quite pleasant, and we can get far enough from the mangroves that the mosquitoes do not bother us. This allows us to fish for more than one day in areas that are quite remote.

One more than one occasion I have woken up with tailing bonefish in sight, hopped out and started fishing. As the kids become older I look forward to taking them backcountry and camping this way.