It was Saturday morning and I was hooked up to a huge permit over an inshore wreck. That same afternoon, I was stalking the flats in search of bones. All without a passport. Only in Florida’s Lower Keys.
A satellite view of the 125-mile-long sub-tropical island chain reveals why the southern Keys hold a special appeal to paddle-powered anglers. This place brims with shallow, protected, off-the-beaten-path waters. On the west side, miles of emerald flats hold bonefish, permit and tarpon. On the ocean side, venture south to Hawk Channel, a deep-water thruway that separates the islands from the barrier reefs and the Gulf Stream. From the Seven Mile Bridge west, there is ready access to both gulf- and ocean-side waters at more than a dozen public boat launch ramps and 33 sites designated for kayaks along the Overseas Highway (US Route 1).
CHART YOUR COURSE
Old Wooden Bridge Marina and Cottages
Wooden Bridge is an old school fishing camp and marina on Big Pine Key that offers efficiency cottages within steps of access to No Name Key and the surrounding islands (oldwoodenbridge.com; 305-872-2241). This is home base for kayak fishing guide and naturalist Bill Keogh. You’ll find kayak rentals, fresh bait, free advice and the opportunity to ferry your ‘yak to angle the out islands via Keogh’s Carolina Skiff (keyskayaktours.com; 305-872-7474).
The Lower Keys are a year-round fishery for bonefish, tarpon, snook, sharks, grouper and snapper. The weather is most stable—and the sight fishing can be incredible—in the summer months, when bonefish, snook and tarpon are primary targets.
Live shrimp catches ‘em all but can be a challenge to keep frisky. Ditch the bait bucket and try wrapping a dozen shrimp side by side in a towel kept wet on the floor of your ‘yak. Productive fakes include D.O.A. Shrimp, jig and twister tails, Gulp! Minnows, shrimp-imitating flies, Clousers and surface poppers.
For fresh homemade shrimp cocktail, bring left-over bait to a boil in a pot of beer laced with Old Bay. Then amble over to the funky No Name Pub, a short stroll from the Old Wooden Bridge camp, for pizza and—‘cause you’re walking—a cold draught brew or three.
This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue of Kayak Angler. For more great content, subscribe to Kayak Angler’s print and digital editions here.