The Florida Keys are considered an anglers paradise for many reasons. The waters are warm, the beaches are beautiful, and the fishing is good year-round. There are plenty of experiences to be had here but if you choose to go Florida Keys flats fishing, we don’t blame you.
For experienced anglers, it’s the only place in the world to hook into a “Florida Keys Inshore Grand Slam.” Beginners, on the other hand, make the most of the sheltered and calm waters to learn techniques like sight casting and fly fishing.
The crystal clear waters in the flats are typically no deeper than 6 or 7 feet. This very much makes it a seasonal fishery. Legendary inshore fish come to feed and spawn in the warm waters, but when you come will play a big part in what you catch. We’ll dive further into that below, alongside where to go and how to fish – so keep reading!
What can I catch flats fishing in the Florida Keys?
The Florida Keys flats are home to some of the most treasured inshore fish in the world. There are three that stand out in particular, and hooking them all in one day gives you the bragging rights of a Florida Keys Inshore Grand Slam. There’s more to fishing here than Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit though. Let’s take a look below.
Bonefish are the favorite of Florida Keys fly fishing enthusiasts and you’ll need some serious skill to hook one. These fish are unpredictable and often hard to find, changing habitats frequently. And when you do find a school, you’ll need to act quickly. Bonefish can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour, making casting and presentation especially important.
Peak bonefishing season in the Florida Keys happens between March and October. The fish average around 3–5 pounds, though some measure in the 10-pound range. Bonefish are considered a very valuable asset to Florida’s game fishing industry. The FWC estimates that the monetary value of a single Bonefish in the Florida Keys is about $3,500 dollars per year! As such, this species is catch and release only.
Tarpon could easily be dubbed Florida’s signature fish. These much-loved prehistoric creatures have protected status in the Sunshine State, so your pursuit of one will have to result in you releasing it. You’ll hear them referred to as “Silver Kings” just as often as you will Tarpon, on account of their silvery color and impressive size.
In the Keys, they can reach up to 200 pounds, so expect a ferocious battle. Of the three fish that make up the Inshore Slam, Tarpon are the hardest fighting. Artificial lures are best used over the flats, as well as lighter lines that will allow you to cast close enough to your spotted fish. Technically, they’re present in the Keys year-round, however, the peak time to fish for them is mid-March to mid-July.
The last species you’ll need to catch to ensure that Florida Keys Inshore Grand Slam is Permit. Some argue that hooking one of these is the hardest of all. This is on account of their hawk-like vision, incredible hearing, and powerful sense of smell. They fight like bulldogs too, and average well over 20 pounds in the Florida Keys flats.
Late February through mid-April is peak season. This is the period before they spawn, meaning the fish are traveling in schools and eager to eat. But that’s not the only time to fish for them. You can also target Permit in the summer months of June and July, when the waters are clear and sight casting is at its best.