Islamorada, FL: Inshore fisherman’s paradise

Islamorada, located in the heart of the Florida Keys, is one of the most traversed fishing destinations in the continental United States.  It provides one of the most unique fishing habitats with the confluence of the gulf of mexico, florida everglades, and atlantic ocean all meeting right there.

One of the best things about fishing in Islamorada, and that is is most known for, is the inshore fishing.  We also refer to this as backcountry fishing in the Florida Keys.  There are plenty of opportunities for anglers of all skill levels to enjoy catching fish as small as a few pounds, all the way up to several hundred pounds!  Almost all fish that you can catch in the Atlantic ocean you have a shot at catching in Islamorada.  We have good inshore fishing year round, while you may have to adjust your tactics slightly depending on the weather, there is still always something to catch.  Here are some of the options you have when going inshore fishing in Islamorada.

 Flats Fishing

florida keys permit on flatsWhen most people think of flats fishing, Islamorada is one of the top destinations they dream of coming to fish.  The local flats of Islamorada are home to the big 3 – permit, tarpon, and bonefish.  You  have a shot at catching all three almost year round, while spring is the best time for all 3.  Tarpon are caught year round, though migrators show up in the spring when it warms up and stay through till mid-summer.  Bonefish are here year round but are usually are caught easiest in the spring or fall.  Permit are mostly caught here in the spring as well, though can show up on wrecks in the gulf and offshore through the summer as well.  When flats fishing for these guys, most people are going to be sight fishing.  Large shrimp or crabs can work for all of these guys.  For bonefish and permit, guides often pole anglers along and look for tailing fish in shallow water.  Sometimes you’ll just see fish waking – other times for bonefish you’ll see visible signs of them feeding such as muds being produced.  One can also ‘stake up’ fish for these guys, where you just sit on a flat with your shrimps out waiting for them to come by.  Tarpon are caught drifting or anchoring with live baits, but can also be sight fished as well.  You’ll see these fish roll around the boat, sometimes you’ll see them ‘laid up’ where they lie motionless awaiting your bait presentation, and of course you will see packs them moving along the edges of the banks where anglers sit and wait for them to come by.

Backcountry Fishing

baby tarpon

The backcountry encompasses the Everglades National Park in our area.  We catch a variety of species in a variety of ways back her

e.  While you can pole the flats similar to Islamorada, you can also do this and blind cast in many areas.  Redfish, snook, trout, and tarpon are the sought after ones most of the time.  Small technical poling skiffs pole the super ‘skinny water’ looking for tailing redfish often.  The snook will lay in deeper potholes.  You can also fish structure such as mangroves for these same fish, or even in the deeper creeks and canals that go up into the mainland.  Muds can be found that harbor trout, ladyfish, jacks, pompano, mackerel, bluefish, and others.  Sharks can be caught in the many channels, as well as tarpon, goliath grouper, and big sawfish.  You can enjoy fishing back here in a tiny skiff or even a larger bay boat.  There is good year round fishing here.  When it is warm the flats are productive, but in the fall and through winter the deeper creeks and moats often hold lots of fish.

Gulf of Mexico Fishing

florida snookThe Gulf of Mexico is one of my favorite places to fish.  Out here we target permit, tripletail, cobia, spanish mackerel, goliath grouper, snapper, sharks, king mackerel, and more.  We usually fish the numerous wrecks which are home to a variety of species.  One can run the trap buoys in search of tripletail as well which are great eating.  On flat calm days you can get out here in a tiny skiff, however mots of the time a center console or bay boat will be more comfortable in case the winds pick up.

Fishing is good out here starting in the spring, and usually through the early fall.  In winter the mackerel usually light up along with the tripletail, and cobias will still bite good.  However during cold fronts the fishing can shut down out here.  Fishing the Gulf of Mexico also is usually not great when the wind blows hard as it mixes the water up a lot and there are no protected areas.  You’ll begin to know the ‘right days’ for fishing the gulf – you’ll notice the powdery green/blue water that fish seem to love.  Also falling tide is usually critical for truly good fishing out here, so plan accordingly.


Patch Reef Fishing

On the ocean side we have what are known as ‘patch reefs.’  Islamorada patch reef fishing is a good bet during the winter as the predominant wind is North, which makes the near-ocean waters calm as the wind is coming across from the bay.  The cooler water also drives many of the grouper, snapper, mackerel, hogfish, porgies, and others out to the warmer ocean side.  These fish are your general targets, and can provide great eating!  You can also find the occasional permit or cobia out on the patch reefs as well.  The nice thing here is many of these patches are within minutes of areas all throughout the Florida Keys.  Live shrimp or pilchards are a good bet here, and you can chum though it is not always necessary.  The best fishing is usually when the water is fairly mixed up out here, though fish will bite when it is clear.  You may just have to anchor up a little further away to cast to the patch reef.  Fishing jigs and shrimp/pilchards work good.  Having some cut ballyhoo or live smaller pinfish on a knocker rig is also a good bet for grouper or larger snapper.  Ballyhoo will often come up in your chum slick so always have a cast net handy, or you can simply hair-hook them individually!

Well that sums up the general inshore florida fishing you have to look forward to here in Islamorada.  With the protection of areas in the Florida Bay, there is always something to do even when the wind is blowing 30 knots.  I recommend fishing with some guides to learn the conditions and what we fish for at different times, as it’s going to change.  Not every day is ideal for poling for skittish bonefish – you’ll have to be able to adjust to your conditions to really be able to enjoy all that inshore fishing in Islamorada has to offer!

About CaptRickStancyzk

Capt. Rick Stancyzk has written 2 post in this blog.

Capt. Rick is an accomplished inshore fishing guide operating out of historic Bud 'n Mary's marina in Islamorada. He was born with a fishing rod in hand, and chasing fish from a very young age. He's had his fishing articles published in a variety fishing websites and magazines throughout the world, and loves sharing his vast experience and knowledge with other aspiring anglers.

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