Tag Archives: florida keys

Journey Through the Florida Keys- Introduction

(from TryCharterFishing.com)

A Local’s Guide to Travelling through and Enjoying Paradise

KEY LARGO – ISLAMORADA – MARATHON – BIG PINE & THE LOWER KEYS -KEY WESTseven-mile-bridge-marathon

As mainland Florida disappears into the passing reflections of your rearview mirror, and you become engulfed in the tranquil blues and greens of the Atlantic and Florida Bay waters, you soon realize that you’ve entered a part of the country that is truly unique.

A land unimpeded by sky-rise office buildings, rush-hour traffic jams and bright city lights. A place where nature overshadows development; where there are more saltwater canals and channels, than paved roads and parking lots; and where the preferred method of travel is by boat or bicycle, not by car or truck.

You’ve come upon a chain of islands where history is remembered through abandoned bridges, sunken fishing boats, hurricane monuments, and long lost lobster traps. A destination where anglers head to pursue world-record catches; divers and snorkelers voyage to explore the only living coral reef system in the continental United States; and visitors from around the globe travel to enjoy year-round sunshine, and balmy tropical temperatures.

You have arrived in the Florida Keys, and your journey into paradise begins here, with TryCharterFishing.com.

We’ve created a comprehensive Guide to the Florida Keys, that will assist you along the way as you embark on one of the world’s most scenic and enjoyable drives.

florida-keys-lobster-trapsWe’ll share with you our favorite activities; our must see attractions; the restaurants we eat at; and the hotels and accommodations that we recommend to our friends (when we get tired of them sleeping on our couches). This is an unbiased guide, written from a local’s point of view, that we hope will help you discover all the reasons we live, work, and enjoy life in the beautiful Florida Keys.

So follow along as we travel to Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine & the Lower Florida Keys, and finally Key West.

First stop:Key Largo chairs_dock_florida_keys

 

A quick note about Mile Markers: In the Florida Keys, businesses and attractions are referenced by the green mile markers (MMs) located alongside the Overseas Highway (US-1). These begin in Key West (MM 0), and increase as you head east and then north to Florida City (MM 127.5). Throughout this guide we will refer to locations by the mile markers closest to them. “Bayside,” or “Gulfside,” refers to the right-hand side of the road if you are travelling towards Key West. “Oceanside” will be on your left. If travelling away from Key West, Bayside or Gulfside will be on your left, and the Atlantic Ocean will be on your right. Throughout this guide we will refer to the Bayside or Gulfside with a “B,” and the Oceanside with an “O.”

Sparky’s Landing: A Feature

To view a version that is easier to read please click on the article below. You will be taken to a new page where you can click on the icon and then zoom in or out.sparkys1

Restaurant Review: Lorelei (Islamorada)

Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of dining with my wife and mother at Lorelei Restaurant in Islamorada. My mother, visiting from Cincinnati, wanted an outdoor- Florida Keys style dining experience, and I knew that Lorelei was just the place for her to soak up the flavors of the Keys.

Below is my review of Lorelei Restaurant. I plan to make Florida Keys restaurant reviews a staple of FromtheYak.com (as long as my wallet allows), so check back soon and often to read more about the best and worst places to eat in the Florida Keys.

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The menu: The Lorelei dinner menu offers basic fare with selections you’re more likely to find at your neighborhood Applebee’s than at a fine dining seafood establishment. The dinner menu is quite simple with eight sandwiches and seven entrees to choose from, as well as a dozen appetizers highlighted by peppercorn crusted yellowfin tuna, steamboat channel shrimp (fresh peel and eat), and tropical coconut shrimp served with an orange ginger dipping sauce.

The sandwiches, seemingly geared towards a bar crowd and anglers returning from a long day of pursuing bonefish in the backcountry, are anything but exciting.  The sandwich selection reminds me of your run-of-the-mill chain restaurant menu and includes burgers, Philly cheese steak, prime rib and chicken sandwiches; with your only seafood option being the “catch of the day” (usually dolphin this time of year), or cracked conch.

The entrees, like the sandwiches, don’t jump out at you when reading about them on the menu. Baby back ribs, grilled chicken, prime rib, grilled grouper, fried shrimp, Alaskan Snow crabs and the “backcountry yellowtail snapper plate”- yellowtail snapper  encrusted with parmesan cheese and topped with crabmeat and lemon beurre blanc, served with mashed potatoes & gravy and sauteed vegetables, are your only choices.

For desert, Lorelei offers chocolate fudge cake and of course, key lime pie.

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The food: Since I do have a limited budget, and because I’ve had a craving for Philly cheese steaks ever since my last visit to Key West (Mr. Z’s), I decided to bypass the entrees and go with the Philly cheese steak sandwich. This turned out to be an excellent choice as the sandwich portion was large and it was loaded with peppers, onions, steak and CHEESE WHIZ, and came with fries. It may not have been the healthiest of choices, but it sure was delicious- and who eats healthy while on vacation anyway (unfortunately I’m not on vacation)? Plus, I was quite impressed with the moderate price of $8.95.

I’m guessing that my wife and mother, knowing that my wallet was a little light, took it easy on me and also bypassed the entrée menu, electing to go with the less expensive blackened fish sandwich (mahi) and cheese quesadilla. While there isn’t too much you can say about a cheese quesadilla, I will add that the fish sandwich was superb. The portion was above average, the seasoning was flavorful but not overpowering (you could taste the fish, not just the spices), and the dolphin was very fresh.

I can only speculate on the quality of the entrees but the consensus I gathered from looking around at other patron”s plates and from reading reviews online is that the entrees are good, but not great. As far as the sandwiches go, I would rate the Philly Cheese Steak and the blackened catch of the day 4 out of 5 stars- meaning I’d be happy to devour either one of them again.

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The setting: The atmosphere, location and scenery at Lorelei are absolutely amazing!  The setting, more than the food, is why you should come here for lunch or dinner. The landscape is tropical and waterfront, and Lorelei has its own beach where you can dine in the sand in your bare feet, as well as a tiki hut with live nightly music (and good music- Billy Davidson was playing); an unobstructed view of the summertime sunset (complete with moored sailboats to enhance your sunset photos); palms trees; a cabana bar; a marina; backcountry islands off in the distance; two tables set up as swings so you can sway back and forth while eating your meal; beautiful white wooden chairs and tables that add to the ambiance; a sandy area in back set up for receptions of private parties; and just about everything else you could possibly need to be reminded that you are indeed dining in the Florida Keys.

The service: My main complaint about Lorelei is the service. Our waitress was  friendly and informative, but she rarely came around to check on us and she forgot to bring our drink orders on three occasions. Also, never once did she offer to refill our waters- which, when dining in 90-degree heat, is nice to have.

I don’t necessarily blame the waitress for the sub-par service as much as I do the setup of Lorelei. The tables are spread out across an extremely large property and the waitstaff has quite a hike to get from your table back to the bar and kitchen.

I suppose this is also why they have a limited menu- to try and keep things as simple as possible. Still, be prepared for a slow dining experience as the kitchen has a lot of dishes to put out.

My other complaint about Lorelei are the crowds. They do not take reservations and during season you will be hard pressed to find a table.  From what I recall it is a ‘free for all’ if you’re trying to sit in the sand.

This is hardly a knock on the restaurant, after all, there has to be a reason they are busy. Just be warned that during tourist season you may have difficulty getting a table. Also be prepared for people to gather around your table and stand in front of you during sunset if you’re seated anywhere near the water.

The Value: The dinner prices are consistent with dishes found at other Florida Keys restaurants. $23.95 for the grouper entrée, $21.95 for the prime rib, $21.95 for the backcountry yellowtail snapper, and so on. The sandwiches were all very well priced and well worth the cost, and they did not charge extra for your choice of fries or sweet potato fries. The drinks- I had a double vodka with a splash of cranberry ($5.50), while my wife and mother had pints of domestic draft beer ($2.50), were also reasonable.

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The Consensus: Definitely go to Lorelei, if only just once. This is the perfect place to grab a bite or cold drink on your first and/or last night in the Keys, to remind you why you came here to visit. The food is good, and the atmosphere is amazing! There are plenty of great indoor dining locations that serve more ‘advanced’ fare which you can dine at later on in your trip. None of them however, can match the ambiance of Lorelei.

Just remember to get here early during season as they don’t take reservations, and to bring your camera to photograph the sunsets over Florida Bay. The live music is great, very “Keysie,” and if you’re not hungry there’s a nice open-air bar to have a happy-hour drink at while overlooking the water.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being stay far far away from, and 10 meaning it shouldn’t be missed on your trip to the Keys, I’d give Lorelei Restaurant in Islamorada a solid 8.5. It’s the type of place you came to the Keys for.

Seven-Mile Sunset

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Reel Fiction

I paddled out the narrow canal and alongside the row of thirsty mangrove roots and then crossed the green water of the basin and headed towards the rickety dock at the mouth of the inlet.  A light breeze had stirred a gentle chop in the channel and the saltwater slurped against the dock’s splintered pilings exposing sharp black barnacles that clung to the wood just below the high tide line. I maneuvered the boat alongside the outer piling and positioned its port side against the base to keep from drifting in the outgoing current. The barnacles scraped at the boat’s hard shell and made a painful crunching sound as the kayak rose and fell in the surf. I rested the paddle on my knees and reached into the bait bucket for a shrimp. The shrimp scattered and scratched at the plastic bucket and I pinned down a rather sizeable one and scooped it into the palm of my left hand. I bit off the tail just above the fan and threaded the hook up through the back and out behind the dark spot in the head so that the bend and the point were exposed.

The lively bait twitched and snapped and I tossed it into the water so it could breathe. I slid the rod from the mounted rod holder and flipped open the bail. I held the line gently with my forefinger to keep it from slipping and searched the water for any sign of movement. There was a faint ripple below the dock and I pitched the bait perfectly behind it and held the rod tip high to keep the shrimp from dragging on bottom. I delicately twitched the rod to enhance the shrimp’s presentation and suddenly the line went taut and I thrust the rod towards me to set the hook. The rod bent from the first eye down to the thicker middle eyes and there was a zip from the reel as line spun off against the drag. I tightened down on the fish and pulled rather hard to keep it from wrapping around the pilings and splicing the line on the sharp crustaceans. The kayak came loose from its moor and I drifted away from the fish which put even more tension on the line. I pointed the rod straight and let off the drag again to keep the line from snapping and the fish turned and swam towards me and I reeled hard and fast to remove the slack.  I saw a flash of silver as the fish showed me its side and then it continued out past the rocks and towards the open water. It was a big tarpon, at least a hundred pounds, and I knew I was in for a ride.

There was a flats skiff heading out the inlet and the guide slowed to an idle and looked on as the fish towed me past his bow. The tarpon was taking me where it wanted to go and it dove deep and headed out the channel, veering to the west and through a trough that ran along the beach. It pulled at a steady pace with the wind behind me and the fourteen feet of plastic rode nicely in the waves and felt stable.  I held the rod handle firmly in my left hand and clutched the paddle under my right shoulder, using it as a rudder to stay straight behind the fish. The strong fish showed no signs of slowing and it continued past the hotel pier, and then past the narrow beach and the row of pastel vacation rentals. There was a group of tourists out taking their morning strolls on the coarse sand and one saw the bent rod and pointed in my direction. I welcomed the attention and gave a quick nod as I glided by, pretending I was in control of my situation.

The sun was now beginning to climb in the morning sky and I slid my polarized sunglasses off my visor and over my eyes. The lenses cut down on the glare and the contrast of the clear blues and greens of the shallows came into view. I rested the paddle across my thigh and took a quick swig from the water bottle and placed it back in the cup holder between my legs. Without warning the tarpon turned hard and ran away from the beach and accelerated back to the east. I nearly lost my balance as the kayak swung completely around and a small wave crashed over the stern and soaked my back. Then a long dark shadow rose to the surface and a keen grey fin appeared just yards off the bow. It sped towards the end of the line with such aggression that I knew it was a bull shark, and acting solely on instinct, I reached for my pocket knife and sawed at the braided line until the tension vanished. The fish was now free and it raced towards the deep and just narrowly missed the shark’s charge. The big bull circled around once more and then disappeared below the surface and I could no longer see it or the tarpon and I assumed it was gone.

For a moment I was relieved for the fish and for myself, but then the shark reappeared on the starboard side and advanced a second time. The tarpon got hit hard and with such force that it rolled on its back and the shark ripped at its scaled flesh and tore the fish completely in half behind the pelvic fin. The tarpon’s head convulsed on the surface and blood poured into the water and I turned away and felt sick. For a moment I paused in disbelief but then a second dorsal fin appeared and I was quickly reminded that this was not a place I wanted to be. Not in an exposed small plastic boat especially. I reeled in the now weightless line and put the rod back in the holder and angled the boat towards the shoreline and headed quickly back home. I paddled steady and strong until I reached the shallow water and I sat back in the padded seat and took a moment to catch my breath.

I felt terrible for what had just transpired and I could not get the gruesome image of the attack out of my mind. I cursed myself for letting the fish swim into an ambush and for draining the energy he would have needed to escape the shark’s advances. I took a few deep breaths to calm my nerves and then turned back into the soft breeze and continued home. I paddled past a string of lobster buoys bobbing in the surf and I took a moment to appreciate how the sun had turned the sky pink and outlined the clouds the color of fire. On any other day I would have taken out my camera and photographed the beautiful images but right then I was in no mood. I waited a couple of minutes for several charter boats to speed out the inlet and for their wake to dissipate and I paddled near the rocks to stay clear of their path. I glanced over at the dock where I had hooked the strong fish nearly an hour before and knew that it would be some time before I pitched a bait there again.

Put the Rum in the Coconut

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I blame Men’s Journal for arousing my latest craving; fresh coconut water and booze.

Twice in the magazine’s past twelve issues has an interviewee said that his favorite liquid concoction involves mixing fresh coconut water with alcohol.

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First, it was Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Chicago White Sox, who shared that his esteemed drink of choice, in true Caribbean fashion, was made by slashing a coconut with a machete and then pouring the contents straight into a glass of Scotch.

Awesome!

I’m not sure how I feel about Ozzie as a manager (his tactics do make me laugh from time to time), but the thought of him hacking at a coconut with a razor sharp machete- half way through a bottle of single malt Scotch- sure sparked my interest.

Next, it was Jimmy Buffett, the man who the locals claim to hate (but secretly envy- who doesn’t?); and who the chambers of commerce rely on- as he draws tourists to the Keys every year looking to live out a line from one of his songs.

Buffett’s favorite creation of mixology, as he told Men’s Journal, combines coconut water, rum, a squeeze of lime, and glass full of ice- sounds refreshing doesn’t it?

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Step 1- Find a coconut.

This is not as easy as you may think- although anyone living up north where there aren’t any coconut palms probably would find this step to be quite difficult to achieve.

Not to fret- if you’re unable to obtain fresh coconuts, coconut water can be purchased in your local grocery store. I haven’t tried it- but at least you know it will be the right flavor (more on that later!)

Usually, I will find coconuts lying on the ground that have recently fallen from my neighbor’s trees. “Usually” pertains to “when I’m not searching for one to crack open and pour into my booze,” so, of course, today there were none to be found.

Thankfully my neighbor, seeing me struggle to whack down a football-sized nut’ with a plastic kayak paddle, lent me her branch cutters- Thanks Sue. I was able to saw down two nice green coconuts filled full of coconut water (I could hear it swishing around as I shook them).

Step 2- Get the booze.

Now, I like Scotch… and I like rum- but seeing as it was 90 degrees with the sun baking down on my flesh the thought of Ozzie’s recipe didn’t quite attract me as much as Buffett’s concoction and the big glass of ice it was to be poured upon.

Rum it is.

Buffett’s recipe clearly states to purchase “good Carribean Rum.”

Define “good” Jimmy. Is it a relative term based on the purchaser’s salary?

If so, then I went above and beyond “good” when I splurged and spent $10 on a bottle of Trader Vic’s Gold Rum at Walgreens (yes our Walgreens sell booze down here).

coconut-water

Step 3- Open the coconut.

My machete needs sharpened; my health insurance doesn’t cover acts of stupidity; and I spent way too much time plucking the coconuts from the tree to spill one drop of water smashing them over a sharp rock. So, I drilled a hole with a power drill. Worked perfectly!

Step 4- Mix and Drink!

Next, I filled the glass with ice, shook the coconut until enough water drizzled out to fill the glass half way- then topped off the glass with rum. I squeezed a couple of lime wedges, garnished with a lime, and then drank…three.

THE VERDICT

Good. Not great, but good. I may have to try this again very soon as the verdict is still out- possibly tomorrow (for the sake of the blog).

The coconut water was not very sweet and almost bitter tasting in the second coconut I opened.

From what I gather the older the coconut is the more the liquid solidifies and forms the “meat.” Therefore, the younger coconuts are the ones that hold the most water and thus the best ones to use for your drinks.

coconut-water-and-rum

I’m not sure which color of coconut holds the sweetest, but what I do know is that the green coconuts I had today did not add much life to the drinks I poured, they merely diluted the potency of the booze and added a very subtle hint of sweetness.

In theory, Ozzie’s drink makes more sense as a traditional Scotch and water (replace the water with coconut water) would probably be quite tasty. I think I would enjoy this variation more, and I think it may be research time.

To conclude, if you’re searching for a fruity tropical rum drink to sip on the beach I recommend going straight for the coconut rum (such as Malibu), and skipping all the effort that goes into obtaining fresh coconut water. The coconut water may not add the degree sweetness you’re looking for.

If though, you find yourself searching for a way to entertain your house guests, or just feel like mixing up a genuine Caribbean drink, then by all means, drill away.

Just find something better than a kayak paddle to knock the damn things out of the trees.

Random Florida Keys Photos

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Muttons and More!

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Between battling a sinus infection and cleaning up after my Australian Shepherd puppy (he’s not house-broken yet), I haven’t gotten out on the water as much as I’ve liked to.

Fortunately, I was able to get out Sunday for a quick fish/snorkel trip- and I had the opportunity to go mutton snapper fishing for a couple of hours last night with Captain Jason Long of Best Bet Sportfishing.

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keys_aj-largeOn Sunday, Jeff Reilly and I headed out to fish a wreck and to see what species were looming below.

On the first drift Jeff hooked up with this monster AJ and I thought he was going to suffer a heat stroke from battling the hard-fighting fish on light tackle in the 90-degree heat (with absolutely zero breeze).

After a few more drops we decided it was way too hot to fish and we headed for the patch reefs to cool off and look for hog fish. The seas were glass calm and the visibility was amazing.

Jeff was able to shoot a few hog fish on the grass and we enjoyed the fillets at a tasty dinner that evening at Ty and Tara’s house where we took in yet another amazing sunset.

Tuesday, it was time to do a little first-hand research for the Florida Keys fishing report (which Captain Long and I do our best to write). The theme of this week’s report was “Escape the Heat,” so we headed out that evening to fish for mutton snapper under cooler temperatures.

Within minutes, Ann Nash and Kyle Witwer were hooked up with fish and shortly thereafter two big muttons were in the box.

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One drift later and all four of us had hooked up and reeled in a quality pink each. Captain Long definitely knows where to find the fish and how to target them.

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If you’re planning to fish for mutton snapper in the Florida Keys, here are few tips (that I have learned) that may also help you catch fish.

  • Fish where the fish are (a bit obvious huh?)- If you search online you can find public gps numbers for wrecks throughout the Florida Keys that do hold mutton snapper. However, these wrecks get a ton of fishing pressure and they are often much less productive than the smaller wrecks that the good charter captains, like Jason Long, know of. My advice: if you’re looking to target mutton snapper on your own, try the numbers you find online and give it a shot. If you come up empty though, you may want to book a trip with one of the many excellent Florida Keys captains who can take you to the spots that no one else knows of!
  • muttonsUse fluorocarbon- at least ten to fifteen feet. Muttons can be very finicky and line shy- you don’t want them seeing your leader.
  • Hold the weight on the bottom and use enough lead to keep it down- try to keep the rod as still as possible and always keep the lead firmly on the bottom. Do not lift the rod up and down.
  • Reel down on the fish, don’t set the hook- when you feel the fish take your bait, crank down hard and then lift the rod. Do not set the hook in an upward jerk motion- this will cause you to lose fish more often than not.
  • Fish with live bait- live pilchards, pinfish and ballyhoo, to name a few, can all entice a hungry mutton snapper.

It’s a Tuna!!!

Now, by no means am I an expert when it comes to the subject of identifying fish.

I can tell you the difference between a Spanish mackerel and a cero mackerel, or a black grouper and a gag grouper, but test me on the different species of shark, or the multitude of colorful fish you’ll catch while fishing the reef or out deep dropping offshore, and I’ll likely not have a clue what’s on the end of your line.

But yesterday, while I was kayak fishing off Key Colony Beach, I was fairly certain that the two gentlemen I saw surf fishing from the rocks at the mouth of the inlet, had indeed misidentified their catch.

While not nearly as good as yellowfin tuna, yellow jacks are actually very tasty.

While not nearly as good as yellowfin tuna, yellow jacks are actually very tasty.

And while you’d be amazed at the variety of highly sought after game fish and table fare species that you can catch while shore or bridge fishing in the Florida Keys, I am fairly certain that yellowfin tuna is not one of them.

Thus, when I heard one of the guys- in a serious and demanding tone- shout “go get the gaff, it’s a yellowfin tuna,” I nearly capsized my kayak from laughing so hard.

Again, I am no marine biologist, but I am positive that at no time will you catch a yellowfin tuna ten yards off the beach in the Florida Keys, no matter how hard you try.

Not only that, but yellowfin tuna are not that common anywhere in the Keys (unlike their smaller cousins the blackfin tuna), although you may catch one here or there while out fishing the humps or out beyond the Gulf Stream.

So I guess all things considered, if I thought I had a yellowfin tuna on my hook, I probably would have yelled for someone to get the gaff as well.

I can only assume that the fish the gentleman lost in the rocks was a jack crevalle, or maybe even a yellow jack. Both are hard-fighting, extremely fun game fish to reel in (especially on light tackle), but far from the trophy catch of a yellowfin tuna.

This brings me to the point of this post- after all, the goal was not to poke fun at the shore-bound tuna angler. The goal was to advise you that if you’re planning on fishing in the Florida Keys, whether on your own boat, or from shore or bridge, make sure to acquaint yourself with the rules and regulations for Florida saltwater fishing.

I know a few Florida Fish & Wildlife officers and Monroe County sheriffs who will not show sympathy when it comes to writing you a hefty ticket for keeping more than your bag limit, or for tossing undersized or protected fish in your cooler.

Do you know the difference between a black grouper (shown here) and a gag grouper? Gag grouper are closed in the Gulf from Feb. 1- March 31.

Can you tell the difference between a black grouper (shown here) and a gag grouper?

So take the time to learn the species that you’ll be catching before you drop a line into the water. Not only will this keep you from getting in trouble when the law asks to check your catch; but it will also impress your friends when they ask what type of fish you caught.

“Oh that, that’s a schoolmaster; a type of snapper.”

Plus, if you know your species, you won’t have to worry about some local “know-it-all” writing an article about you!

Florida Keys bridges, equipped with new fishing platforms, are a great place to catch a variety of species.

Florida Keys bridges, equipped with new fishing platforms, are a great place to catch a variety of species.

A great place to start is the Florida Keys species guide that can be found on Try CharterFishing.com. This guide shows you photos of the different species you can catch; as well as their food quality, where they can be found, and the regulations and bag limits for each.

Another good idea is to print out an updated copy of the FWC Regulations (regulations constantly change so print a new copy often), and always keep it with you in your tackle box. Throw in a tape measure to measure the length of your fish, and you’ll be ready to hit the water.

Below are some basic regulations to get you started. You can view photos of each here.

  • Mangrove Snapper:  10 inches or greater. Limit 5 (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit).
  • Yellowtail Snapper: 12 inches or greater. Limit 10 (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit).
  • Tarpon: It is common practice to release all tarpon but you can possess 2 if you have a tarpon tag.
  • Snook: Must measure between 28-33 inches and are illegal to keep from Dec.-Feb. & May- Aug. You are allowed to keep one “slot” fish during snook season.
  • Jack Crevalle: No regulations but they are very poor to eat.
  • Yellow Jack: No bag or size limit and despite what some may say are actually quite tasty!
  • Black Grouper: Must be over 24 inches. 2 per angler per day.
  • Barracuda: No size or bag limit. Rarely eaten and often contain ciguatera- they can be poisonous to eat!
  • Goliath Grouper: Federally protected. It is illegal to keep them!

Florida Keys Kayak Fishing – The Basics

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Kayak fishing is one of my favorite ways to get out on the water and spend an afternoon. It’s great exercise, you have an opportunity catch a wide variety of fish (especially here in the Florida Keys), and best of all- it’s inexpensive!

You don’t have to dig into your wallet to fill up your kayak with gas and oil every time you want to go fishing, and, aside from a quick rinse with the hose, there’s virtually no maintenance or repair bills!

Plus, you don’t have to deal with those yahoos who flock to the public boat ramps on the weekends. All you need is a few inches of water to slide your yak into the water, and you’re on your way to great fishing.

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Of course, kayak fishing does have its restrictions; none greater than the limited fishing grounds you are able to paddle to, and the amount of time it takes to travel from one fishing hole to the next.

But if you know where to find the fish, and know how to target them, I guarantee that you’ll keep the rod bent, and have a chance to catch a number of trophy species, just like the guys you see out there poling around on their flats skiffs.

Over the past two years I have caught bonefish, permit, tarpon, redfish, snook, grouper, snapper, sharks, barracuda, and more from my kayak. And I’m determined to add a few new species to that list this year, including sailfish!

Below I have compiled a list of the basic equipment and gear that you will need to begin your new pastime as a kayak angler.  Please check back to FromtheYak.com often to read my latest kayak fishing reports, as well as tips on how to rig your kayak and how to target specific species.

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The ultimate kayak fishing goal- catching a Florida Keys permit.

The Kayak

You don’t need an expensive kayak to catch fish in the Keys. A basic 10 to 15-foot sit-on-top kayak will handle the job in the waters you will be fishing. Just about any Florida Keys kayak rental will have this type of kayak available to rent if you don’t have your own.

I have two Perception kayaks that I bought used off Craig’s list (a 12′ Swing, and 13′ Prism), and they more than handle my fishing needs; both inshore, and when I’m feeling a bit daring and head a few miles out into the Atlantic.

I installed rod holders on both my kayaks which allow me to carry multiple rods at a time. While the rod holders are a luxury, it’s not necessary to have them on your yak. You really only need one rod and reel outfit to catch fish, and you shouldn’t have any problems finding room for it (just lay it across your lap facing the bow of the boat).

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The Tackle

If I could take only one rod and reel combo kayak fishing with me, it would be a 7′ medium action spinning rod, spooled with 15-lb. monofilament line (or 10-lb. braid), and a 20-30 lb. splice of fluorocarbon leader.

This set-up will allow you to fish the docks for snapper, snook, jacks and more; and the flats for bonefish, small sharks and barracuda. Small resident tarpon can also be fought and landed on this setup.

On nearly every one of my kayak fishing expeditions (unless I’m fishing for tarpon or heading out to the reef) I take the same three outfits with me.

  • 7′ medium-light, fast action spinning rod, with Shimano 4000 series spinning reel, spooled with 8lb. braid line, and 6 feet of 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader.
  • 7’6 medium, fast action spinning rod, with Shimano 4000 series spinning reel, spooled with 10 lb. braid line, and 6 feet of 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader.
  • 7′ medium-heavy spinning rod, with Shimano 8000 series spinning reel, spooled with 30lb. braid line, and 6 feet of 40lb. fluorocarbon leader).

key_west_kayak_fishing Note that using a splice of fluorocarbon leader (4 to 7 feet attached directly to your mainline) will help your chances of catching fish- but is not mandatory. Fluorocarbon line is almost invisible underwater and thus helps when targeting line-shy species such as bonefish, permit and tarpon.

If you don’t want to spend the money to buy a spool of fluorocarbon (it can be quite expensive!), a monofilament leader will do the trick. The heavier the leader the better when you’re fishing around docks or pilings where your line is likely to get frayed.

Also remember that your gear is destined to get drenched with saltwater in your kayak. Therefore it’s wise not to take your best gear out with you- and always make sure to thoroughly rinse your rod(s) and reel(s) with fresh water after each trip. It’s a good idea to frequently clean them (properly!), or take them to a tackle shop for maintenance as well. Saltwater will deteriorate your equipment quickly and proper reel maintenance is a must when kayak fishing.

The Bait

I prefer to fish with live bait or fresh dead bait over artificial lures- simply because I have more success with them. Live shrimp, blue crabs, pinfish, and even small pilchards will survive for a few hours (or more) in a flow troll style bait bucket.

To keep the bait alive as long as possible, I will attach the bait bucket to my kayak using a six-foot piece of rope, and keep it floating in the water whenever I am drift fishing or during breaks from paddling. If I am paddling to or from a location, or kayaking quietly across a flat trying to remain as stealthy as possible, I will place the bait bucket in the stern of the kayak and refresh the water every ten or fifteen minutes.

Live shrimp is my bait of choice for nearly all types of kayak fishing, and nearly every species, including bonefish, tarpon, snapper, snook, redfish, and more, will eat a live shrimp, or fresh piece of shrimp tipped on a jig head.

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Artificials can be very productive and a lot of fun.

Artificials can be very productive and a lot of fun.

When trolling channels or bridges; casting baits into the mangroves; and when targeting wintertime barracudas on the flats, I like to break out the artificial lures.

For trolling, I prefer to drag diving plugs, such as Rapalas® or Yo-zuri Minnows; or soft baits, like a D.O.A. Bait Buster or TerrorEyz.

For casting to hungry barracuda on the flats, soft-plastic jerk baits and top water lures (such as a Mirrolure® plug) can be loads of fun. Despite not having a reputation of being a glamorous game fish, big barracudas (especially from a kayak) can be an absolute blast to reel in.

Other artificial lures, such as Berkley® Gulp baits, crank baits, spinners and spoons all have their place in a kayak angler’s tackle box depending the species you are targeting.

Mustad 2/0 baitholder hooks are great for keeping live shrimp on the hook.

Mustad 2/0 baitholder hooks are great for keeping live shrimp on the hook.

I like to rig one light-weight rod with a size 2/0  baitholder hook (for hooking a live shrimp or small crab on), and my other light spinning outfit with a 1/4 or 1/8 ounce jig head, or skimmer jig, tipped with a piece of shrimp (the extra weight helps me to cast to fish that are further away).

For my larger rod I usually rig it with a Size 4 or 5 live bait hook (with no weight), and keep it ready with a shrimp or crab to pitch to a passing tarpon or permit.

Where to Fish

There are endless miles of  fishy waters surrounding the Florida Keys that are accessible to the kayak angler.

My favorite places to fish are around docks, mangrove islands, small bridges and passes (with a minimal amount of tidal flow), channels, deep water basins, shallow grass flats and flats with a hard bottom.

I advise starting out fishing around docks- either on the bayside, the Atlantic side, or on one of the many canals. Any number of fish can be caught around Florida Keys docks, including: snook, tarpon, grouper, snapper, jacks and more.

Fishing around small bridges can produce a variety of fish, including an occasional cero mackerel.

Fishing around small bridges can produce a variety of fish, including an occasional cero mackerel.

If you are unfamiliar with the Keys waters, just look at a marine chart, or use Google Earth, to map out a few flats, mangrove islands, and deep channels to fish. Find a spot that looks interesting, and give it a try.

One of the best parts of kayak fishing is finding your own unique honey holes that you may never have discovered if you were fishing from a motor boat.

Kayak Accessories

You will see  kayaks online and on the water that are rigged for some serious fishing. Some are equipped with built-in live wells, gps navigation devices, fish finders, outriggers (for fishing offshore), and I’ve even seen one with a miniature tuna tower on top.

Drift sock and flow troll bait bucket.

Drift sock and flow troll bait bucket.

Frankly, you don’t need any of these things to catch fish from your kayak- especially in the Florida Keys! All you need is a rod and reel, a dozen or so live shrimp, a bait bucket, a few #2 or #3 size hooks, a life jacket, a pair of pliers or dehooking device, a knife (or other line cutting tool), a paddle, and a desire to catch fish.

On my kayak trips I also like to bring along a drift sock as well, which I will throw into the water to slow the boat down if I am fighting a big fish, or if I am drifting too fast in the wind or current. When the drift sock opens it fills with water and creates a nice drag against the boat.

Other common kayak accessories include stake-out poles (for remaining stationary in shallow water),  rear and center-mount rod holders, anchors (I simply use a brick tied to a rope), and padded kayak seats, which are a must if paddling long distances.

What Else to Bring

I never head out in my kayak without taking a digital camera, a cell phone, a pair of polarized sunglasses (not only will they protect your eyes but they will help cut down the water’s glare and help you spot fish), and plenty of water. I enclose my camera and cell phone in a small water-tight fishing bag, which I tightly secure to my kayak seat to make sure it doesn’t fall into the water.

It is also smart to put your camera and phone into a Ziploc® to further prevent them from getting wet. After breaking my last digital camera (I dropped it in the water), I purchased a water-proof Pentax®Optio W60 camera that I don’t have to worry about getting wet. Plus, it takes great underwater shots.

islamorada-kayak-fishing

I also suggest bringing along a ruler or tape measure to measure the fish you catch. That way you can to tell your friends just how big the fish you caught were, and if you plan on keeping any fish, you’ll know if they are of legal size.

I release all the fish I catch from my kayak, but if you plan to take a fish or two home, you may want to attach a cooler filled with ice to your kayak. A small, soft-case cooler, tied down with rope and bungee cords, should do the trick.

kayak_fishing_key_largoEnjoy!

These tips should give you a good jump start for pursuing trophy Florida Keys fish from your kayak. Just remember to always be safe, keep it simple, and fish with a partner as often as possible.

Please check back to FromtheYak soon to read more about kayak fishing in the Florida Keys.

Tight Lines and Good Fishing!