These prehistoric looking fish are easily identified by there green backs and silver sides with exceptionally large scales. Tarpon are slow growers, maturing at 7 to 13 years of age and can live for over 50 years. Spawning occurs between May and September; females can lay more than 12 million eggs during a spawn. They can tolerate wide ranges of salinity levels; juveniles are commonly found in fresh water. Tarpon are the only species that can breathe air at the surface due to their unique air bladder. The tarpon’s main diet consists of fish and large crustaceans.
Tarpon can be caught through most of the year when water temperatures are above 70 degrees. The largest fish are hooked during the annual migration through the Keys from April through June. The migrating tarpon average 80-100 pounds with many caught over 100 pounds. The remaining times of the year we fish for the smaller “resident” tarpon on light tackle. These 5-40 lb. fish provide great aerial shows with their leaps and head shakes.
Avg. size caught: 40 - 50 lbs.
Florida Record: 243lbs
Snook have a distinctive body shape with an under-slung lower jaw, large fins and their defining black lateral line running the full length of their body. Snook generally have a dark backs above the lateral line then shading to silver along the sides and bottom with yellow fins. Snook are tolerable to low salinity levels and can often be found in fresh water where most females spawn. Due to their sensitivity to cold water, snook can only be found in the US around the southern peninsula of Florida.
Snook can be caught year-around in South Florida but the best times are March through December during the warmer months. During the winter, these fish will migrate further back into the inland waters of Everglades National Park seeking warmer temperatures. Snook can be fished in a variety of methods including along mangrove shorelines, on the shallow flats, and creeks or inlets. Whether using artificial lures or live bait, snook are one known for their tenacious fighting abilities especially around mangroves.
Avg. size caught: 6 -10 lbs.
Florida Record: 44lbs.
Redfish are generally have reddish or bronze backs with a white belly. Redfish or “reds” as they are called have a distinctive black spot just in front of the tail fin on both sides of the fish. Actually, redfish can have one to many spots at the base of its tail (rarely no spots). Many people believe the spot mimics eyes, keeping predators from attacking their heads. They have an under-slung lower jaw which enables them to dig into the bottom for crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. Many times when feeding in shallow water, redfish will expose their tails above the water-line revealing their location.
Reds seem to thrive in hot water making them a great sight-fishing species during the summer months. There are few more thrilling fishing experiences than seeing redfish tailing in shallow water. June through October are great months for red-fishing on the flats and along the mangrove shorelines. As the water temperatures drop the reds will move into the deeper water such as the channels and creeks. Reds are also known for their short powerful runs which are a delight for anglers.
Avg. size caught: 4 - 8 lbs
Florida Record: 51lbs
These silver ghosts of the flats have a streamlined body with dark green backs and silver bodies. Probably one of the most sought after species for anglers in the Florida Keys. Bonefish can only be found from Miami south through the Florida Keys as well as the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. The under-slung lower jaw is a perfect fit for feeding on crustaceans from the bottom. There coloration is a perfect camouflage for grassy flats which give the bonefish its nickname; ghost of the flats.
Fall and Spring provide the best all day fishing opportunities for bonefish. Bonefish do not enjoy the extreme heat or cold water temperatures but they can still be caught at the right times of the day or tide. Bonefish are known for their lightning fast, long-distance runs on the flats. The Florida Keys have some of the largest bonefish in the world making this a prime destination. Don’t expect to go out and catch 20 bonefish in a day, these fish are very weary and easily spooked. It only takes one bonefish to make it a good day and once you’ve caught one you’ll be hooked for life.
Avg. size caught: 6 - 8 lbs
Florida Record: 15 lbs, 6 ounces
Permit are known for their long bullish runs on the flats using their large sickle-shaped tail fins for propulsion. They have a tall silvery body and bullish head creating a powerful adversary on light tackle. A permit’s diet consists of mainly crustaceans so they are especially fond of blue crabs. A silver-dollar sized crab is the most productive bait for catching permit on the flats. These fish can also be caught on offshore wrecks or reefs in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Permit are only found in South Florida, the Caribbean and Bahamas.
Permit can be caught almost year-around provided that water temperatures are above 70 degrees. Spring and summer produces the most catches especially on calm days. Light winds make sight-fishing much easier as these fish will often float on the surface exposing their tales. Permit and Bonefish are two of the most skittish species on the flats. The challenge of stalking and catching permit can become addictive for advanced anglers.
Avg. size caught: 15 - 20 lbs
Florida Record: 56 lbs
Speckled trout also known as sea trout, specks or just trout. They are a member of the croaker family along with redfish (red drum) and males are easily identified by their croak. As with most species, females are larger than males. Trout have slender silver bodies with prominent black spots or specks. Trout are plentiful throughout Florida and the Gulf Coast as they move in schools provided great fun for anglers of all skill levels. They are also great table fare with white flaky meat and mild flavor.
Trout are caught year-around in Florida Bay but will migrate with the seasons. The largest trout are caught in the spring when females are full of roe during the annual spawn. These large breeding females are released and I only allow males to be kept during the spawn. Trout spend most of their adolescent life on a diet of crustaceans and the mature trout will eat larger bait fish. They’re aggressive attitudes make them a great target on artificial lures and will eat topwater and soft-plastic baits readily.
Avg. size caught: 1-2 lbs
Florida Record: 17lbs 7 oz.
Larger heads and more yellow coloring along the bottom distinguish jacks from the elusive permit. Jack crevelles are known as the hardest fighting fish in the Everglades due to their explosive runs and long bullish fights. Jacks are the most aggressive of all shallow-water species making them a great target on topwater plugs and just about any other artificial bait. They move on schools with 3-5 jacks and are readily available for anglers of all skill levels. Jacks can be found just about anywhere there is bait fish present; creeks, shorelines and even in the middle of a bay.
Although they are available year-around, the largest jacks are caught during the major fall and spring mullet migrations. Most of the year the smaller 1-4 pound jacks are caught as by-catch while fishing for other species. There is no other species that will fight like a jack on light tackle. Expect a long initial run then a tug-of-war as the fish uses his saucer shaped body to his advantage. Jacks are catch and release only due to their strong flavored meat.
Avg. size caught: 3-5 lbs
Florida Record: 57lbs