Glades and Upper Keys Fishing Report – Fall Bait Run 2013

Glades and Upper Keys Fishing Report – Fall Bait Run 2013

Just returned from a great week in the Keys and Everglades Park.  We were very nervous planning this trip which was going to be focused on fishing the glades during the fall bait run.  With the government shutdown we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to fish the park waters at all.  I usually camp at Flamingo campground but since the park wasn’t open at the time of departure we stayed in Islamorada instead.  My buddy Captain Shafter Johnston was nice enough to host us on his fabulous Mother Boat, The Marquesas, which he had docked at Caloosa Cove Marina in Islamorada.

With the park waters closed we stayed local to the Keys and took advantage of the big numbers of permit that show up on the flats this time of year.  Captain Johnston came along and took us to an area he had been seeing big numbers of them on the rising tide.  We had tons of shots but it took us a little while to figure out that the permit wanted a bit smaller crab than what we were throwing.  Captain Johnston had been getting them to eat a fly on previous days so I was embarrassed not being able to connect with a live crab.

Once it was clear to run into the park waters we made the run across Florida Bay and on up the remote gulf coast of the glades.  The first day we were trying hard to pattern the tarpon.  We found them in some of the river mouths absolutely sky rocketing through the huge schools of mullet passing through with the big full moon tides.  Seeing multiple 100 pound plus tarpon in the air at one time blasting through mullet schools was really something to see.  The problem was the tarpon were so focused on big mullet they wouldn’t touch our smaller offerings.  We tried every mullet imitating plug in the tackle box, Puglisi mullet flies and live lady fish and all were refused that day.  This was with a feeding frenzy going on right in front of us!  I know I should have cast net some of the mullet but I was afraid of spooking off the big pod of tarpon.

With the tarpon not cooperating we went to explore some shorelines for snook.  We found great numbers of them on the higher stages of the tide in tight on the shorelines and they really were crushing Mirrodines and Twitch-n-Rap plugs.  Many days it seems they prefer one over the other but that day it didn’t seem to matter.

The next 2 days we found that the gulf shorelines where we caught the snook the day before were very muddy from the large groundswell driven by the full moon tides and north winds.  We found some massive schools of pilchards in one of the river mouths each morning.  With one throw of the net we had the livewell completely black with bait.  We took those baits back down to the Cape Sable area and on into Florida Bay and had a blast.  It seemed like everywhere we stopped and threw out a few handfuls of live pilchards the snook and reds would immediately start blasting them.  We easily caught 40 to 50 snook and reds per day including some really really nice sized ones.  There were several we didn’t land that we absolutely couldn’t stop from running back into the cover that will keep me awake at night wondering about them.  We also found more tarpon showering mullet and were able to get these to eat.  The key seemed to be to use big mullet imitating baits and a steady retrieve with the rod held very high.  This kept the bait right on the surface just like the mullet schools were.  Some of the strikes were absolutely amazing with the baits right on top.  Most of the tarpon were in the 60 to 80 pound range.  Honestly we didn’t land but a few but we had a lot of fun getting a few jumps out of them before they would throw those heavy plugs.

Our last evening Captain Johnston jumped on the boat with us again and we gave some of the local Keys bridges a try once it got dark.  It was the same situation as the Everglades, pods of mullet were passing through and tarpon were exploding on them all around the bridge channels.   Once again the tarpon only wanted the biggest plugs in our box.  Once we found the right plug we were getting multiple blow ups on the same cast.  Shafter had some really big Yozuri Crystal Minnows that ended up being the hot bait.  By the end of the evening we were down to one lure left and were taking turns with it.  I wish I had a couple of those to have tried on those Glades tarpon too.

Thanks again to Captain Johnston for all the help putting this trip together and the great lodging on the mother boat.

CHIP WILLIMON