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SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER - NOVEMBER
This is the best time of year to fish the flats. The summer waters are starting to cool with the approach of fall, and these fish really respond by coming up on the flats and feeding all day long. Combined with the fact that there is 1/10th the amount of anglers out there chasing them, they take on a whole new attitude - they are not as spooky or nervous. This is very advantageous when pursuing our trophy size flats fish and can make for some great fishing. A couple of years ago I had an angler catch 5 bonefish in a day, casting at each one (Not just soaking shrimp on the bottom and waiting for a bite. This is what many guides do, which is not "sight fishing.").
BONEFISH: Some of the biggest bonefish are caught this time of year too, because there is a minor fall spawn too. Again our average bonefish is 8 – 10 lbs. with fish getting into the 13 lbs. range. Record size bones of 14 plus lbs. can be caught.
Let me tell you, an 8 – 10 lbs. bonefish is a completely different fish than a 2 – 4 pounder from the Bahamas or Central America. I am talking about our bonefish running 150 to 200 yards in 30 seconds, compared to a +40 yard run by the smaller bones, or a 20-minute fight compared to a 5-minute fight. I’ve caught those fish over there, and they are no comparison, almost boring after catching a few of those small fish.
We find lots of fish to cast at. If we find less than 100 bonefish to cast at, we have had a below than average day. Some days we have seen up to 300 bonefish.
This time of year we find lots of “tailing bonefish,” and we can find them all day long. If you really want to do something very exciting – that will put you on the edge – try hunting these guys with a fishing rod. (A couple of years ago, a client confessed that he had fished 5 days in the Bahamas and never saw a tailing bonefish, only cruising and mudding fish. What a shame.)
PERMIT: They are back on the flats in big numbers because they have finished their spawn on the reefs by mid- July. There is excellent fishing for permit into November. We find them right on the edges of the flats in schools of 10 to 20 permit. We can see 50 permit in a day while we are bonefish fishing. If we strictly permit fish all day, we could cast at 100 permit or more.
These fish average 30 to 15 lbs., and the largest we have caught was 39 ½ lbs. Every year I see some very big permit in that +40 lbs. size. Any permit over 25 lbs. is a big permit.
I have caught quite a few permit on fly too, 5 here in Islamorada (9 total). If you want to catch a permit on fly, I can help you with the “nuances” of hooking a permit on fly.
TARPON: The big spawners have moved on, but the juveniles stay to grow. We catch lots of tarpon in the 15 – 30 lbs. range with the occasional 50 – 80 lbs.
We can live bait them with light tackle in the channels and around the bridges. This can be hot fishing. We average around the same as during the spawn, 4 caught per day for around 8 hooked up.
We can also find some schools around the flats to cast at. This can be quite fun and we can do it while we bonefish. They hang out at very specific spots, so it is not like at every flat you are bonefish fishing that you can encounter these baby tarpon.
SNOOK: As we are redfish fishing we come across snook often on the flats. They can be nice fish up to 12 lbs. They are also quite spooky, but if you get your lure in front of them before they spook hard, they will eat it. And what a nice run they make in shallow water, sometimes up to a hundred yards. Then they come up shaking their head and you pray: “don’t shake that hook, please just don’t shake that hook.” Sight catching a snook or two on the flats is always a nice bonus to a day of redfish fishing.
Barracudas and sharks: There are not as many big barracudas on the flats as in the winter and spring, but at any time a big barracuda can be on the flats. When the mullet show up mid to late fall, big barracudas are right behind them, literally.
When that big barracuda attacks your lure 20 feet from the boat as you’re cranking it in, it’s a real jaw dropper! And in shallow water, they fight hard and jump well. These barracudas are 15 to 30 pounds
Big lemon sharks are plentiful this time of year too. They are fun to cast to and they fight very hard. We can catch them on bait or plugs, and fooling them on a big plug can be exciting. We can catch big ones on 30 lbs. spin (from 50 to 200 lbs.), or small ones on 10lbs. spin.
DOLPHIN: There can be some good dolphin fishing in the fall with fish in the 10 to 20 pound area and maybe a 30 pounder. Catching 10 to 20 fish like that can be regular with the right conditions.
SAILFISH: With the first fronts of late October the sailfish start to push down the coast, and catching a couple sails or more is possible.
COBIA: In October the cobia migrate down the west coast and start to show up on the wrecks, sometimes in big schools. These fish are ready feeders, and big fighters. They are between 15 to 30 lbs. with the occasional 50 plus pounder.
REEF: Snappers and groupers are caught all year long, and the fall can have some good fishing. Big yellow tails can be caught, and the muttons move into the patch reefs towards late fall as the cold fronts start pushing through.
Grouper fishing gets good as the water cools with the approach of winter. While we are sailfish fishing we can fish for grouper by dropping a live bait down or deep jigging. While snapper fishing, a big live bait out the back is good for catching them. And if you want to just catch grouper, trolling ballyhoo and plugs down the reef can be very effective for catching them, or dropping a big bait down on specific wrecks can catch some nice fish.
Also, while we are cobia fishing the wrecks off the west coast, we can catch some nice mangrove snapper and gag grouper.