It could be said that there is never a bad time to fish in the Florida Keys. I for one can vouch for that. September can however, be a transition period offshore in the Keys where sailfish and dorado are few and far between. The flats on the other hand can be on fire with some top species of fish cruising the shallows.
Many guides argue that September and October offer the best chance for a grand slam in the Lower Keys and that is why fall fishing on the flats is known as the “Slam Season.” With the improved probability of hooking tarpon, bonefish and permit, a flats slam could be in the cards. With good weather and less tourists, accommodations are easier to find and cheaper than other times – an added benefit.
Prior to cold fronts arriving, the flats tend to be gin clear, making sight fishing the best way to hook into some of the largest bonefish of the year. To hook the permit and tarpon on the flats, a stealthy approach and a good long cast will produce spectacular hits. Bonefish this time of year are particularly large but tarpon, although relatively easy to find, tend to be smaller in size.
All species are ready to take your properly presented bait, lure or fly. Getting out early or late in the cooler parts of the day will produce the best results unless the water temperature has cooled slightly which allows for good fishing all day. The smaller tarpon can be found in the basins on the edges of flats and also along the mangroves during the day. The occasional larger tarpon can also be found cruising the basins but smaller tarpon are far more numerous.
One of the best and most exciting ways to sight fish for a slam is with a fly rod. An eight weight rod with a floating tippet and fly patterns mimicking crab, shrimp and Clouser patterns work well. Eight to twelve pound spinning tackle will also serve up great fights on the flats fished with a variety of topwater plugs, soft baits and of course live shrimp. It is always a good idea to check with local tackle shops to see what fish are hitting. The best way to learn the ropes and what works best is a charter. A half-day flats fishing charter will certainly decrease your learning curve drastically.
No matter your preference of fish or tackle, fall is one of the best times to get out on the flats and enjoy great fishing in the Keys.