Florida Keys Flats & Backcountry Fishing Reports

By Capt Luke Kelly



Key Flat Charters

March 29, 2012

Florida Keys flats fishing is good! Air and water temps have been spot on after what was a very breezy March. With challenging fishing conditions on account of past week’s high winds, one thing is for sure, when it was good this month, permit fishing was good!

Overall numbers of permit seen this year in comparison to last year was certainly down. I don’t feel it was an issue of general permit stock, but rather an issue of confused permit. This year’s winter season ended with air temps well above average for the southeast. This year’s “permit pre-spawn flats fishing” seemed to have been drawn-out over the later half of winter, therefore ended somewhat early this month as a result. Instead of seeing hundreds this March, most days resulted in few solid shots at our most challenging beloved gamefish. Myself and other guides are hoping to see a positive flip side in numbers when the permit return from their offshore spawn this June and July.

Tarpon and bonefish are increasing in number each week it seems. The overall tarpon/bonefish explosion has yet to arrive, with everyone impatiently waiting.... I’m sure word will go out once the bomb drops. Bonefish that are currently inshore now are all very solid fish, same goes for the tarpon.

Everything seems to be leveling out nicely in regard to weather patterns. I have yet to feel the balmy humid mornings I associate with epic Keys flats fishing. Rest assure when I do, it’s gonna be going off!        -Luke Kelly

2012 Florida Keys Tarpon Season was a blast!!!

July 12, 2012

What a season! After stepping back for a second, considering all that went into it, it was good.... In-fact, it was great!!, Certainly provided allot of memories. Things are now getting warm down here, literately. I think today’s high air temp was just over 90 degrees. That normally puts our gamefish down by 1 pm. Still an equal number of bonefish to permit on the flats. Not quite as many tarpon around as this time last month, but they’re still here and are best caught during the early morning hours.

We are approaching our slow time of year here in the lower Florida Keys, and I couldn’t be happier. Slow mainly because of the summer heat and potential for hurricane, but it is still my favorite time to be here. Easygoing, laid-back living and great morning-hour flats fishing for bonefish, permit, and baby tarpon. If interested in doing some Keys flats fishing this August or September, please contact me and I’d be happy to go over best future morning tides and travel options with you.

Included are a few favorite photos from the later half this season (May - July, 2012)

A BIG THANKS to all anglers who made it happen!!!!

November 16, 2012

Oh how I love this time of year. Days become shorter as we approach winter, nights are cooler, and the mosquitos are gone. The word transition best describes past week’s inshore fishing here in the Lower Florida Keys; as we experience a swing in water temperature from warm to cool.

During warmer weeks (air temps above 70 degrees fahrenheit), fishing tends to be best. Especially if wanting a wide assortment of different fish. During the warmest days this time of year (air temps approaching 80), permit fishing has been very good! Tarpon and even bonefish make an appearance this time of year as long as water temps are rising upward. Huge barracuda, redfish, and cobia are also available during these more favorable conditions right now.

During the cooler weeks (air temps less than 70), we typically lose the chance for tarpon, permit, and bonefish. Left to focus primarily on barracuda, jack crevalle, redfish, sea-trout, and snapper. Large barracuda and jacks will give you the most action during cool days. Both are caught from the flats, amongst the same beautiful areas we target permit and bonefish during the spring and summer months.

Hence why I love this time of year. Whatever your catching, whether it be a barracuda or a permit, it becomes fun to see it all at work when targeting your natural possibilities.

Pictured to the right and below this report is one man Mr Adam Reardon, and a prime example of what a little good weather can do this time of year. Adam was fortunate enough to experience 3 out of 4 days onboard this week with warm air temps. Within those three days Adam scored himself 2 permit, 1 stud bonefish (not pictured), went 1 for 3 on tarpon, and boated a few handfuls of barracuda, redfish, and big jacks.

I’m always happy to see people with bent fishing rods on my boat, but I’m always happier to see people down here with good weather. Adam Reardon had some of that good weather, he also had the patience and skills to catch/release a collection of very nice fish!

Florida Keys WINTER Flats Fishing Report

January 16, 2013

    Summer-like weather during mid January! Well... Not all conditions have been perfectly beautiful like those pictured to the right this winter. Though, while half the state of Florida remains cut-off from a seemingly rough winter during more recent weeks. Florida Keys surrounding nearshore water temps have had ample time to warm into the mid 70’s.


    That’s good news when talking about flats fishing, problem is it’s somewhat out of season. Having a negative impact on the Florida Keys commercial fishing industry. Let’s hope February is more like the cool month it should be, as cool water temps do play an important role to the natural swing of things.

    But, while the gettin’s good on the flats, go get it... With this seemingly mild winter for the far south in place, you can count on good fishing for the Florida Keys backcountry. Barracuda, big jacks, redfish, and permit will be the most abundant during the next month. If this weather keeps up the way it has, expect good tarpon fishing by the end of February!     -Capt Luke Kelly

Sarah Fitzsimmons took 30 minutes out of her day to sight-cast this stud permit. Fish was caught and released on the flats January 13th, 2013.

Miss January

Florida Keys SPRING Flats Fishing Report

April 5, 2013

Off to a cool start, March offered very few “springlike” days as the Florida Keys started it’s sport-fishing season. A winter that seemed to start late, certainly lasted late this year. Cold is the enemy on the flats, throw in wind and overcast, and things get tough. While most of the days seemed that way last month, in-between the fronts were some very good days. Proof that if just given the chance, the fish we love to target on the flats this time of year do come out to play.

In fact, recent week’s fishing has been very good in response to the warming water we now have in place. Tarpon hook-ups have been high, permit have been schooling in large numbers, and the barracuda fishing has been fierce! Bonefish have been showing up in select areas, even the redfish have hung around to date. Past week’s fishing has been rock solid as we head into April.

Please take the time to visit the Lower Keys Guides Association website at www.lkga.org There you will find a number of topics LKGA is working towards to help preserve Florida Keys recreational sport-fishing. If you feel this world-class fishery is worth preserving, please GET INVOLVED with our efforts. Email the contacts found on the website and tell them what you think.  

Thanks for reading - Capt Luke Kelly

Keys Tarpon Season On The Hook!

June 4, 2013

Looking back on the past two months, some very good tarpon fishing days were had so far this season. Late cold-fronts and soggy low pressure systems seem to be abundant this year. Finding that week long stretch of even keeled weather has proven tough as we head into June. Yet, the tarpon are definitely here.

At times hard to see from the bow of a flats boat because of weather conditions. Certainly doesn’t mean the mythical silver king isn’t lurking below the surface, hidden from mankind.

Good tarpon fishing should last into mid July, especially during the morning/evening hours. Please inquire about the evening half day tarpon trip if interested, as this is the best time of year for it! ~ Thanks for reading

Fall flats fishing fast approaching!!!

Sept 7, 2013

October and November are great months to fish the Florida Keys. A time of year when a variety of fish can be caught throughout the shallow nearshore waters of the lower Keys backcountry. Permit, bonefish, and periodic swarms of tarpon. Redfish, barracuda, and large jack crevalle can all be hunted during a day on the flats this mild weather time of year.

The last good chance for anyone looking to catch that permit from the flats. Once the winter water temps set in with December, our beloved permit, bones, and tarpon become scarce until spring.

So get it while the gettin’s good! It certainly sounds nice to head south for the winter to do some flats fishing. Truth is, cold becomes the enemy when talking shallow water fish in the Florida Keys.

I see it as a 50/50 chance when considering Dec/Jan flats fishing. If given good weather between cold fronts, I’ve seen great action with redfish, barracuda, and jacks. Permit even come out if air temps climb for a period of time. If experiencing the effects of a cold front, shallow water becomes the last place you wanna fish.

So if heading to the Keys this winter expect warmer weather, key lime pie, and good local seafood; not tailing bonefish. If the weather looks good, then go fishing. 

Surrounding are a few favorites that made it to the skiff this summer. I’m happy to say fishing was good this July and August, as it should’ve in many ways. With summer now fading away, I think we’re gonna be alright this fall. 

Thanks for reading ~

It's time... Fall flats fishing approaches!

September through November offers great inshore fishing for the Florida Keys. Tarpon, permit, and bonefish are found during favorable tidal conditions throughout this time of year. While large barracuda, jack crevalle, and even redfish become prevalent towards November. All are targeted in shallow water on light tackle or fly, whichever is preferred. Great time of year for variety!

Winter months December and January only lose the strong potential for gamefish such as tarpon, permit, and bonefish. Barracuda, big jacks, redfish, sea trout, and snapper still provide great action during winter months.

(updated Aug 2014)

Another great spring/summer season!!

Florida Keys flats fishing revolves around months February through June. Due mostly to our ever so cherished tarpon migration, fishing enthusiasts from around the globe find themselves in the Florida Keys in pursuit of the silver king year after year. Alongside tarpon, a world class permit fishery and ever so cunning Keys' bonefish provide day to day chances for the coveted Inshore SLAM. People travel far and wide in search of these challenging gamefish. In the Lower Florida Keys, all are seen on a daily basis during these spring and early summer months.

Every year is different. This year started great with unseasonably warm weather during February and March. April and early May received the windy/cool weather March should have seen. And then everything broke loose during late May and June with calm warm conditions. Good tarpon fishing has lasted well into July this year. No complaints about the permit fishing, and the bonefish have remained consistent to date.

The weather will make or break your day on the flats. Extreme weather conditions always exist during these months, it's normally the time in between when great stories are born. As a rule of thumb, I normally suggest light tackle spinning methods between months February and April. May through July often provide the conditions for fly fishing. This is a precautionary measure, as well as what makes best sense for catching such gamefish during this awesome time of year, and it’s varying conditions.

(updated July 2014)

Summertime Tarpon!

Joe Yurkanin of PA strapped a GoPro to his chest during his first-time tarpon fishing experience. What turned out was a great perspective on what happens during a flat calm morning in the Florida Keys. Watch as Joe hones his skills while casting to rolling tarpon, then gets the job done on fly.

(updated Aug 2014)

Winter sets in, tarpon-season on the horizon!

Pictured right is Bo Carter (left) and myself holding this year’s 1st place prize during the Sugarloaf Showdown, a fishing tournament to benefit the Guides Trust Foundation. This tournament is held annually in the lower Keys during mid November, and served as a great cap to another fall season.

December has rolled in with cooler water temps we flats fishermen tend to hate. While months Sept through November were right on point this year providing some very nice weather conditions for Keys’ flats fishing. Juvenile tarpon, permit, bonefish, barracuda, and large schools of jack and pompano were a day to day occurrence since my last report.

With winter now setting in, I’ll be looking forward to spring-time tarpon season. Mid February through July is by far the best time of year to fish the flats of the Florida Keys. My availability is becoming limited to a few open slots during Feb, Mar, Apr, and July. Booked solid during May and June, 2015. Opportunity awaits in two feet of clear-water, hope to see you out there.

(updated Dec 2014)

February Forecast... Toothy!!

The Florida Keys winter season brings barracuda to the flats. Driven inshore to prey on the hoards of baitfish found during this time, February is the month they are at their best. If watching this largely fast fish chase your lure thru the shallows doesn’t get the heart going, there’s something wrong. Calling this fish “sporty” is an understatement. They are valuable, and we are so lucky for the opportunity to catch/release this fierce fish in 1-2 ft of gin-clear water.

Visit www.lkga.org to find ways in which you can help save barracuda from commercial overfishing.

When not chasing down barracuda on the flats, I’ll be looking forward to the ever so popular permit and tarpon fishing during these next few months. Late winter/early spring brings these great gamefish inshore at the right place and time. Looking forward to seeing you out there.     

(updated late Jan 2015)

It’s Tarpon Time!!!

Writing this report on the first bad-weather day off I’ve had in weeks. The weather and fishing has been incredible since late Feb. With very little non-conducive inshore fishing conditions, tarpon-season began early this year for the flats. Watching these emerald green giants swim through 5 ft of water provokes a certain nirvana for fishermen, I personally have been spending allot of time in that place.

The permit fishing has also been great. While the majority of the stock is currently spawning offshore, late Feb and March were right on point for sight-fishing permit. With May and June approaching, I await the return of the breeding size fish who made it through their spawn.

Happy to report a recent spike in bonefish both large and small. Water temps have been very warm, predator activity on the flats low, thus the spike in bonefish. All and all it has so far been a good year for Florida Keys flats fishing; a big thanks to all those who made it happen!

(updated late Apr 2015)

Fall flats fishing on it’s way!

Get second chances at bonefish, permit, and tarpon this fall before winter pushes em out! This year’s spring/summer season was phenomenal for these 3 gamefish, and that means a portion of them will come back around as soon as water temps begin to cool. Fall flats fishing is a fine line, lasting only a short amount of time, mid Oct through mid Dec typically sees the best fishing. 

In addition to the mentioned game-fish potential, the fall season also brings huge barracuda to the flats most commonly during Nov and Dec. Sight-fishing the great barracuda in 2 ft of clear water is jaw dropping when it all goes down. Fierce with unmatched speed and aerobatics, cuda are one heck of a sport-fish when targeted on the flats. 

Weather conditions during this upcoming time in the Florida Keys are often very comfortable. Windbreakers are normally needed in the morning, only to be taken off by mid-day and peak sunlight hrs. With air temps in the 70’s and low 80’s I hardly ever break a sweat during this favorite time of year. Accompanying this report are some favorite shots from the past few months; get out there and fish!

(updated late July 2015)

Here’s looking at you this winter!

In-shore flats & backcountry surrounding the Florida Keys offer potential around every corner during winter months. While far different from the fishing opportunities migrating through our waters during the spring season. December through February are by far the best months to catch delicious Mangrove Snapper from the seemingly endless amount of calm-water hideaway spots found throughout the Lower Keys. This is great for someone looking to bring home some fresh fish for dinner, or entertain the kids for a half-day of high action fun fishing.

When the sun comes out, and the weather calms between cold-fronts. A high action sight-fishery comes to life on the flats. Surface-strike fishing for big Jack Crevalle is just plain fun! When that wears you out, take to the shallows in search of the Great Barracuda giants. Barracuda are found throughout many differing habitats, most cuda seen throughout shallow waters are relatively small, less than 30 inches. However, things get interesting when the larger 50+ inch barracuda come out to play. Aggressive strikes, high-speed runs and uncontrollable jumps. These fish have it all and this action will last well into March.  

(updated Dec 2015)

2016 March Madness comes to an end!

March is a month of men and lion, fisher-men and lion-like weather patterns. When the lion rests, so do the ocean winds. When the lion awakes, those winds become viscous. Beauty of it all lies within the fact that no matter the wind speed, as long as it’s not cold wind that is; wind can at times be your friend. The permit pictured to the right was caught from 2 ft of water during winds exceeding 20 knots.

Tarpon have been making them selves know during more recent weeks. One can’t help but feel within the presence of greatness when watching this pre-historic animal cruise through a shallow depth of water. Florida Keys tarpon fishing is hard to beat. Watching this ultimate gamefish suck in a hand-tied fly at times 20 ft from the boat is addictive, never happy until you see it again.

Bonefish are moving in with the change of season. Remember to use barbless hooks or simply pinch the barb with pliers when targeting bonefish. Most importantly do not remove the fish from the water if handling for photo. (updated Apr 3rd 2016)

July Bonefishing!

Summertime is the right time for this jewel of the flats. Apart from the amazing fight they exhibit, bonefish often take you to the serene hideaway spots riddled throughout the lower Florida Keys backcountry.

The winter season of 2010 put a hurting on this awesome gamefish throughout the Fla Keys. Since then I’ve seen a steady increase in size of these fish. If the potential age of bonefish can exceed 20 years, it’s a breath of fresh-air seeing a rebound of this valuable gamefish within a decade. Care while handling bonefish means keeping them wet at all times. Remove them from the water, and you might as well throw it in the cooler. Barbless hooks a must!

(updated May, 2016)

Summertime Tarpon on the FLY!

Summer months in the Florida Keys are special for the flats and backcountry. Often extremely calm during morning hours, producing great conditions for finding those rolling tarpon before and during sunrise. The month of July in particular is great for this, with morning hours most important. Timing is indeed everything during these months. Charters often depart the dock near 5 am to get on the fish.

Once the sun gets high enough, normally around 10 am, our eyes can penetrate the water thus giving way for bonefish and permit potential on the flats. I’m often asked when the best time of year for bonefish is; June through early August is that time of year.

Looking forward to some eager anglers ready to brave the heat with me this summer! (updated  June, 2016)

2017 Winter / Spring Season Sight-Fishing!

February; a time for men and lions. In the Florida Keys, February and March are known as the lion months. This is due mainly to fierce fishing conditions that often prevail through both months. However fierce fish often follow fierce conditions, for when the lion rests, the permit and tarpon come out to play!

Some of the year’s BEST Permit & Tarpon fishing starts now. February is more of a Permit & Barracuda month, while March is more of a Permit, Barracuda, & Tarpon month. Either way, both are great months to escape North America’s harsh weather, and enjoy a bit of sunshine in the Florida Keys targeting the best sport & game-fishing has to offer. (updated  Jan, 2017)

If you’re seeing pictures of fish... I’m catchin em!