Fly Fishing the Florida Keys ~ Part I

Danny Smith

Several months ago my wife and I went to the Florida Keys. I went with the goal in mind to research different fly fishing areas, guides, hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions on a budget. I have been to the Keys before, but never took the time to really explore the range of fishing opportunities.

We stayed at the Hawk's Cay Resort on Duck Key. We traveled at the lowest point of off-season to keep it affordable. The accommodations were first class, and fairly affordable. Knowing that I am a fly fishing addict, my wife decided it would be more fun to keep tabs on me than to sit on the beach.

We spent the first day checking out Duck Key, but to no avail. You are not allowed to fish anywhere around the Key, except for one spot (I will talk about that in just a moment). Bahia Honda Key State Park was our first stop. On the drive we noticed many side roads that went off into nowhere, I kept that in mind for our return trip. Upon arriving at the Bahia Honda State Park we needed to pay a $4 entrance fee. I spoke to the parking attendant and she informed us that this is some of the best bone fishing in the keys. I can now see why.

After a half-mile drive to the parking we walked a half mile walk to the flats at Bahia Honda which were breath-taking! Opalescent water and sand went as far as the eye could see. Wading ranged from ankle to waist deep with loads of baitfish. Finally after about 3 hours of wading we saw our first pod of bones, but they saw us too. And it was over that fast. Time had slipped away and it was time to return to the car to start heading back. Bahia Honda would be amazing if you can catch the bones at the right time. I obviously missed it.
On the drive back up the keys my wife encouraged me to pull off on a side road. She didn't have to ask twice. Following a narrow two-lane road with mud flats on each side we noticed culverts with large metal tubes under the road. After about 3 of these tubes we stopped at one and tried out a 6 weight to see if the snapper were in any of these areas. Jackpot! First cast and a hook up on a small long-eared snapper (very similar to blue gill on steroids). After several of these fish I thought I would go after some Gar, or Needle fish.
After a bit, Christina, yelled "Is that a shark fin????" I looked off in the distance and sure enough it was a black tip reef shark cruising. He was about 50 yards away. Panicking because I did not have any wire flies rigged I cut my rig back to 15lb class and rigged a wire shock to a fly. By this time the shark was about 2 yards away, and I started to cast. I figured that the shark was attracted to the struggling fish so I threw a popper in his path. I stripped once and a gurgle followed. The shark disappeared. Christina said, "You spooked it." I waited another few seconds, and stripped again. With that the shark fin came up and circled the fly. I knew I had him. Another small twitch followed by a pause, then a big pull. The water exploded and there was nothing but screaming. I turned to Christina, and she was laughing because I was screaming like a giddy schoolgirl! Line peeled off of my reel at an alarming rate! The shark fought valiantly, but to no avail. Side roads paid off!
The next day I was short on time so I decided to head up to Islamorada. On the way Christina said "Hey aren't those bonefish?" Almost causing a traffic accident I pulled over and stopped at Anne's Beach. This became my home over the next week. There were lots of bones. After many hours of patiently wading I finally hooked up and landed a nice five and a half pound bone. I had many shots, but something was not right. I was used to fishing flats that were much shallower than this particular beach. I was consistently standing in water waist deep casting to water that was 5-7 feet deep. I switched to a Teeny Mini-tip and tried a white and chartreuse Clouser Minnow that was the trick. Many fish later I was out of Clousers.

That night we walked out to the bridge at Duck Key. This is a small bridge about 7 feet above the water and 200 feet long. This was a picture perfect night. We were walking romantically hand in hand; the birds were singing a beautiful tune. The moon was bathing us in its soft glow. As we arrived I looked over the edge of the bridge to see a school of huge barracuda! I turned to Christina and looked longingly into her eyes and said "Wait here I will be right back!" After running, what felt like fifty miles, I made it back with the car and a 12-weight rod. I tied on a needlefish pattern and started casting. I could barely see the fish. Christina said "He is rolling for it!"… This went on for about two hours and many, many barracuda patterns later. She kept yelling, "They are rolling!"…

Frustrated, tired, and frazzled, I snapped back "Barracuda don't roll!" "Well! I don't know what to tell you THEY ARE ROLLING!!!!" With that a neon sign appeared on my forehead flashing "STUPID." I ran up on top of the bridge and looked down. After about 3 minutes another "barracuda" rolled. I screamed, "Those are not barracuda THOSE ARE TARPON!!!" Christina said, "See I told you they rolled!" With renewed vigor I ran back down below the bridge and started to cast…

Catch Part II next month…