Key West Shore Report
INFORMATION ABOUT ONSHORE FISHING AT KEY WEST
If adverse weather, time constraints, or your pocketbook, don't permit you to hire a charter boat or a light tackle guide for your angling adventures, there is still good sport to be had by fishing from shore at Key West. You are liable to catch snook, redfish (red drum), tarpon, mangrove snapper, barracuda, and a host of other species. Don't get me wrong. This is not some sort of fantastic angling bonanza. In general, you will seldom connect every time you go. But you will probably see enough fish, or have enough strikes or near misses, to get your pulse racing. If this sounds good to you, read on...
3. A PHILOSOPHY FOR ONSHORE FISHING
We are talking here about "no fuss, no muss" angling, that you can do without making a "project" out of it. For starters, let's rule out bottom fishing from the many bridges and docks adjacent to the deeper channels around Key West. Such fishing here is often very good. But, when you consider the time and expense to get frozen (or live) bait, you are well on the way to making it a "project". Likewise, let's rule out fishing at the crack of dawn, in the middle of the night, or at some place that is difficult to get to. I like to fish, but let's not get carried away here...
So, what we are left with, is fishing that you can do even if you only have few minutes to spare between errands etc. And, casting with artificial lures, along the shallows of the south shore of Key West, fits the bill. Some very good fishing can be done within a few blocks of the City's downtown and better hotels. In fact, a good way to "cover" most of the more productive shorelines is to simply walk or bicycle there! Plus, almost any time of the day will do! This may go against the grain of many dedicated anglers. They quite rightly know that "no pain - no gain" is the general rule for the greatest probability of successful fishing. True, but consider this: in the past two months, I've landed two nice snook, and one very good redfish, plus a handful of mangrove snapper and had any number of "near misses" from a variety of game fish, from waters less than two feet deep, and in less than twenty yards from shore, during a few, brief, daytime, sessions while casting lures. During those same junkets, I must have seen at least 1,000 instances when tarpon, snook, and God knows what else, were striking at baitfish within yards of where I was fishing. This was a fine sauce to keep on casting. With so much natural food around, I really didn't think I'd draw many strikes, but, it never hurts to try...
4. SUGGESTED GEAR AND EQUIPMENT
a) General information: Fishing the shallows around Key West or around other nearby Keys from shore is primarily done with light spinning tackle. Other gear, such as fly tackle will also serve. But, spinning gear is my personal choice, so that is what we will work with in this article. I suggest that you carry at least two spinning rigs for 6-10 lb test line. This permits you to switch the types of lures you offer, in response to varied fishing conditions, without constantly tying or re-tying different lures to your line, as would happen if you had only one spin rod. Actually, when the prospect of shoreline fishing looms especially good, I may take as many as six different spin rods along with me. Each is rigged with specific lure that will best answer to a fishing condition that the remaining lures are not as suitable for. Perhaps that is "overkill", but it works for me. Probably, you could get along with only one spin rig and still have a ball!
b) "The" must have rig: If you have only one spin rod to work with, I suggest it be one that will throw small (1/4 oz or so) buck tail jigs. This will probably be the best "all-around" rig for most of the shallows. The variety of species the jigs will catch is amazing. Perhaps this is because the jigs mimic a type of small baitfish (the "majua" anchovy) that often schools in the shallows. Although I've heard of anglers doing well by using heavier jigs, I say... stay with the 1/4 lead head. Those made by Capt. Carl ReesHank Brown of Islamorada, in white or other light color, are my favorites. Tie the jig to 2-3 feet of 30-40 lb test mono (or fluorocarbon) leader. Use a small black barrel swivel to attach this to your spinning line. Now you are ready to fish!
c) Your "backup/secondary" spinning rig: In some places along the shore, bottom vegetation or other habitat will foul buck tail jigs or other lures that work below the surface. So, have at hand a second rod that will throw the smaller varieties of surface "plugs" and that can "work" them in the shallowest (1 foot or less) waters. Again, you want a lure that mimics the small baitfish seen along shore. Almost any plug will do. I like the floating plugs made by Yo-zuri and by Bomber. Tie them on as described above for jigs.
d) Other gear to bring along: If you fish the Key West shoreline, be prepared to wade a little once in a while. So, shorts and durable shoes are a must. So are polarized glasses to "cut" the glare. I also recommend a hat (for shade) and sunscreen for sunny days. You'll also need to bring along some means to help you land a fish if you are not near a beach to slide it up on. A landing net is fine, but you can get by with a small hand gaff. With care, you can use this to "lip gaff" even those catches you will be releasing, secure that they will swim off "finest kind". Be sure to have some rags to wipe your hands clean with as well. If you intend to possibly keep a portion of your catch for the table, youíll also need to bring along a small ice chest (with ice, and perhaps a cool beverage or two as well). Because many of the fish species you might catch are protected by size limits, youíll need some sort of length measuring device in your tackle kit. I suggest you pick up a measuring tape, such as tailors and seamstresses use. You can buy them in the "sewing supplies " section of most "five and dime" type stores. If you intend to possibly keep a portion of your catch for the table, youíll also need to bring along a small ice chest (with ice, and perhaps a cool beverage or two as well). Because many of the fish species you might catch are protected by size limits, youíll need some sort of length measuring device in your tackle kit. I suggest you pick up a measuring tape, such as tailors and seamstresses use. You can buy them in the "sewing supplies " section of most "five and dime" type stores.
a) Westerly portions of Key West: On the map, the red lines indicate some good places to cast from shore. At the extreme west end of Key West is Fort Taylor State Historic Site. This "state park" (Item #1 on map Legend) is well worth a visit for its own sake. There is plenty to interest even non-fishing visitors. But, for anglers, the rock breakwater that faces the main ship channel is the prime attraction. You can catch most anything there. The Rangers donít allow fishing along the swimming beach on the south shore of the facility.
Moving eastwards along the shore line, the next spot to try is the beach at the foot (southern) end of Key Westís famed north / south "main street", Duval Street (Item #2 on map Legend). Try casting from the cement breakwater or by wading the beach. Iíve caught snook and redfish here consistently. If the water is clear, you can see mangrove snapper (mostly small ones) and other species swimming around in the shallows along the sides of the breakwater. Thatís fun if you have any kids along with you. Just as importantly, at times, smaller tarpon also frequent the area (as do some of their bigger kin).
Another good place is the small beach located off
Reynolds St at the western margin of the Casa Marina Resort (Item #3 on
map Legend). At times the baitfish gather along the western side of the
pier there. Small tarpon and other species are sure to follow. Speaking of
the Casa Marina, the beach and rocky shore there is perhaps the most
"fishy" place of all. But, hotel "Security" generally
tries to keep locals form fishing there. Perhaps theyíll not do the same
if you are a paying guestÖ.(Go for it!).
East of White Street, virtually all the shoreline extending almost two miles till just past the municipal airport is prime fishing territory, with some qualifications. For example, " Rest Beach" begins at the east side of White Street and runs Ĺ mile all the way to the boat ramp at the foot of Bertha St. So, this a stretch of territory that you better be prepared to wade, because much of the "beach" is covered at high water. It also has few access points. You either have to start at White St and walk east to Bertha St, or vice versa. The water here is extremely shallow , and because much of the bottom is covered with seagrass and other vegetation, this area is primarily suited to working it with surface plugs.
The principal beach at Key West is "Smatherís Beach" . It extends from the Bertha St. boat ramp eastwards for Ĺ mile. Along this course, there are three small rock "breakwaters" that jut seaward for a few yards each. All offer a good vantage point to cast small floating plugs to the very shallow flats that they overlook. This stretch of shoreline is perhaps the "best bet" for the visiting angler. There is able parking along South Roosevelt Blvd . (bring quarters to feed the parking meters though!)., and unless you have extremely strong winds blowing in from the south, fishing conditions (water clarity, etc.) are more consistently conducive to productive angling adventures than anywhere else along the shore. Here, it is almost a sure thing that youíll hook up with barracuda, mangrove snapper, and various species of Jack's. All tend to run small, but they give plenty of action on light tackle. The area around the Bertha St. ramp is where to go if you are looking for snook or redfish.
The eastern end of Smathers Beach eventually merges with a low concrete seawall that borders South Roosevelt Blvd.. It runs the rest of the way east along the islandís shore past the airport. The water at the foot of the seawall is less than a foot deep at low tide, so few larger game fish hang out here. But, the area is still worth fishing. . You can generally cast from the seawall and be sure of at least getting strikes from barracuda. In addition, a small channel has been dredged against the seawall from the airport westwards for 300-400 yds. It holds mangrove snapper and a few other species. This stretch of the seawall (by the airport) has the added advantage that you can easily pull your car off the road, and park on the wide sidewalk. Thus, you could almost fish out of your carís passenger side window. Folks that arenít too spry on their feet anymore will probably appreciate that convenience. In fact, on many a summerís eve here , you can see several cars pulled over, and people sitting in lawn chairs while they await bites on their baited lines.
6. WHEN TO GO
a. General considerations: As I mentioned earlier, the beauty of spin casting from shore along the shallows at Key West is that you can give it a go even if you have only a few minutes to spare. Alternatively, after youíve gained experience at this, you may elect to only go when you think conditions are optimum. Generally, I favor the latter approach. For example, if the wind has been blowing offshore for a few days, the waters are only slightly turbid, and a high tide is forecast for the late afternoon, or early evening, then Iíll plan for days in advance to try to fit in a session. I find these conditions often produce more fish than at other times. But, that is just what works for me. You could probably do just as well by fishing early in the morning, or in the dead of night. As for me, Iíll be catching Zís then, so be my guestÖ
There are probably seasonal and other environmental factors that influence the success of the shoreline angler here. However, I doubt a rigorous exposition of them is possible, or would be of much practical use. The permutation of variables is just too big to permit any consistent, predictive, "model" beyond the knowledge and experience that you pick up by simply going out and fishing. That said, I do favor the months of September and October for being the most productive for shoreline fishing,. Thatís typically when baitfish really seem to become the most abundant here. In addition, this is the time when we also have tropical depressions (or worse!) pass near. That seems to roil the waters enough to induce influxes of snook, tarpon, redfish, and ladyfish (among other species) to shoreline habitats.
b) Special considerations: Shoreline angling at Key West is probably unique in that instead of giving you a whole laundry list of conditions or factors that must be satisfied before you are assured of reasonable success, it is the other way around. If only a few adverse conditions obtain, you might as well forget it. And, Iím not even sure if that is true! Anyway, Iíve found that, in my experience, the single biggest adverse factor to successful shoreline angling is very turbid, choppy water. Thatís usually the result of strong onshore winds. I suspect the fish are there, but that they are able to "spread out" more when the water is turbid. Conversely, an equally adverse condition is that if the water is crystal clear (which typically happens if has been little or no wind for a few days) the fish either leave the shallows, or move to pockets of more turbid water that offer them better concealment. So, my other "rule" is- "if the water is crystal clear, and you donít see any fish, it is safe to assume they are not where you are looking".
7. HOW TO FISH
a. General considerations: Perhaps the best method to improve your odds of hooking into snook, redfish, or other species when you fish the shore at Key West, is to observe the behavior of nearby marine life. For example, if you arrive at a spot, and see gulls, pelicans, and terns feeding on baitfish, look closer. What kind of baitfish are being attacked? Are they trying to escape predatory fish by darting clear of the waterís surface? Do you see swirls or "boils" made on the surface by striking fish? All are good evidence that you are at the right place at the right time. Get to fishing!- this place looks "fishy". But, if such evidence is lacking, perhaps (but not always necessarily) you would do better to scout elsewhere.
Assuming you see evidence of predatory fish in the area, now you can begin to select the most appropriate techniques to catch them. Probably the first thing to do is to quietly approach a "fishy" area as close as you can without alarming the fish. . An alarmed fish is generally in no mood to feed for a while. The "rule" is Ė "if you can see them, they can probably see you". It is amazing the number of times Iíve seen snook or redfish in water shallow that they were barely covered. You can bet they are very wary under such conditions, so thatís why you donít want to "spook" them. A corollary to this is to plan your approach to give you as many advantages as possible. You donít want to be casting into the wind if you can help it. You want to get into to a position (or vantage point) so that you can cast to the greatest extent of "fishy" water from one spot, as opposed to having to move around a lot to direct your casts to the "pockets" of water that look to have the greatest potential for holding fish.
Next, you can move on to selecting the type and size of lures youíll want to present. Remember what I said about observing the kinds of baitfish that were in the area? This will help you to select the lure to use. If you see small, slender baitfish, such as "majua" anchovies, select a lure (such as a small bucktail) that mimics them. If mullet or large pilchards are around, go to plugs that mimic them.
a. Suggestions for "working" jigs: As I mentioned earlier, small (1/4 oz) light colored buck tail jigs are perhaps the most productive lure you can use from shore. If the bottom is clear of vegetation, or of obstructions that will cause the jig to be "snagged", you can work it slowly along or near the bottom. A good way to do this is to alternatively reel a little, then let the jig sink, then twitch it a few times before you resume reeling. If the water shallows out, you might reel a little faster, and keep your rod tip higher, in order to keep the jig up near the surface.
b. Suggestions for "working" plugs: If you see evidence that "relatively" large baitfish (such as mullet or pilchards) are in the area, or are being attacked by predatory fish, select a plug that mimics such prey. If the bottom is deep enough, try a plug that sinks or dives. Vary the speed of your retrieve to see what draws strikes. If the water is only a foot or two deep, you need to go with surface plugs. "Walking" them along the surface, and past obstructions that may hold fish, can be productive. Be sure to include smaller ( 2-3 inch long) plugs to augment the "medium" (4-5 inch long) plugs that should make up the bulk of your kit. Larger plugs are generally something I use only occasionally, if at all.Photos
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