Enter Florida’s string of limestone islands known as the Keys and you enter kayak fishing heaven-on-earth. Traveling south along the narrow Highway 1, the hustle and flow of South Florida drops away to mangrove-covered rock islands that separate the emerald green Gulf of Mexico and cobalt blue Atlantic Ocean. Over 1,700 limestone islands (most uninhabited) stretch 120 miles from Soldier Key 15 miles south of Miami to Dry Tortugas only 90 miles from Cuba. The water, the land, the beaches along the Keys are like no place on earth, but it’s the sealife that has turned these islands into a fishing mecca.
The Florida Keys offer fishing opportunities found nowhere else in the U.S., as paddlers have a shot at bonefish, permit and tarpon on the expansive flats. Crystal-clear water invites anglers to stand and sight fish as these iconic trophies flood the shallows. Or, switch gears and target snapper, grouper and other strange critters on the coral reefs that stretch from the flats to the deep.
Like an amusement park for anglers, the villages and towns that dot the Keys are focused on fishing. The best fishing guides, well-stocked outfitters, full-service marinas, seafood restaurants and accommodations ranging from fish camps to five-star resorts await to make any angler’s dream come true.
OUTFITTERS AND GUIDES
Don’s Bait and Tackle, Homestead, 305-247-6616: Last stop before the Keys for bait, tackle and good advice.
Florida Bay Outfitters, Key Largo, 305-451-3018: Kayak rentals and full service paddling gear.
Robbie’s of Islamorada, Islamorada, 305-664-8070: Rent a kayak, hire a guide and explore local holes for tarpon.
Alex Tejeda, 786-306-2958
Robbie Morrow, 305-923-4643
Harriet’s, Key Largo, 305-852-8659: Stop for breakfast muffins or a quick lunch.
Boondocks, Summerland Key, 305-872-4094: Electric vibe, live bands, mini-golf and great seafood.
Mangrove Mama, Sugarloaf Key, 305-745-3030: Laid-back atmosphere and quality food; try the lobster Reuben.
THE SCOOP ON FLORIDA KEYS
Big Pine Key sees less fishing pressure than northern islands.
Bonefish, permit and tarpon
Fishing is great year-round. Summer is very hot, but less crowded. Winter is the height of tourist season.
Medium-light, seven-foot spinning rod with 10-pound braided line and an arm’s length of 12- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jigs tipped with shrimp or live crab.
Medium-heavy, seven-foot spinning rod spooled with 20-pound braid and a three- foot 30-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Fly-rods from 8wt to 9wt, with shooting line and a nine-foot leader that tapers to 20-pound test. Crab and shrimp patterns.
Bring a stable kayak that makes it easy to stand and fish. Rig light to make it easy to paddle all day.
Launch at Bahia Honda State Park and paddle east to head towards the ocean or west towards the Gulf. Fish the incoming tide, watching for tarpon, bonefish and permit to move onto the flats. Look for larger tarpon and sharks on the edge of the flats. Get a good night’s sleep, expect to paddle several miles as you hop from flat to flat. Accurate casts in any conditions are key to tempting trophy fish hunting the clear water.