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Big Pine Key & Lower Keys Fishing

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Flats/Backcountry Fishing
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Fishing in the Lower Keys
By Capt. Jim Sharpe


Whether you are flying or driving into the Lower Keys you will notice a very distinct change as you leave the Middle Keys and enter the Lower Keys. The islands of the Upper and Middle Keys are fossilized coral reefs and lie in an east/west direction. After crossing the Seven Mile Bridge heading toward Big Pine Key the first of the large islands in the Lower Keys you will notice that the islands lie north and south. The reason for this is the islands of the Lower Keys are part of the Appalachian Ridge and made of limestone strata not fossilized coral reefs like the Upper and Middle Keys. This north and south alignment creates long channels between the islands with lots of well-protected shallow bays, flats and mangrove islands. Tarpon, bonefish, permit, barracuda and sharks abound on the flats and are rimed by mangrove islands.

The Lower Keys are located between two large oceans, the Gulf of Mexico to the north and the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Straits to the south. Strong currents flow from the Gulf to the Ocean through these islands. The diversity of gamefish and fishing grounds is not to be found anywhere else in the world.


Flats fishing

Fishing on the flats or backcountry is the light tackle fisherman's dream. The vessels used for this sport are small - about eighteen feet in length - and are very shallow draft. The Captains, or guides as they are referred to, often pole the boat using a long fiberglass pole to move silently across the shallow water to enable the angler to sight cast to gamefish (tarpon, bonefish, permit, shark and barracuda), using light spin or fly casting rod and reel. These gamefish are explosive, often requiring reels with a minimum of 350 yards of line to subdue these worthy opponents.


The Gulf of Mexico is best known for its fishing on shipwrecks and blue holes located in 40 feet of water to the north of the island chain. These areas are loaded with cobia, permit, snapper, grouper, goliath grouper, barracuda and sharks. Guides use 20 to 30 foot fast outboard boats outfitted with proper electronics to locate their fishing spot. Many of the shipwrecks were sunk during the Second World War by our own mines. Spinning tackle from 10 to 20 pound test with tasty shrimp or crabs are used to catch these gamefish.

Deep-sea fishing


To the south of the Lower Keys lies one of the best kept secrets in the fishing industry: sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, kingfish, cero mackerel, blue or white marlin, snapper, grouper, barracuda, amberjack, sharks, tuna and bonita all within a forty-five minute run from the dock. The best part is, there are only a few boats fishing this area. Removed from the population centers, boating traffic is light. Deepwater shipwrecks located off Sugarloaf Key hold large schools of amberjack, large migratory sharks including the great white and mako shark. Very large and aggressive barracuda around these wrecks will test the best angler. During sailfish runs charter boats and their anglers release 12 to 15 sailfish each day hooking and jumping off perhaps 30 billfish in a day. The Wall, the famous fishing grounds of angler and author Ernest Hemingway, is located only one hour run from the dock. Here the Gulfstream flows northward between Cuba and the Keys along the Wall, with water depths that plunge from 900 feet to near 2000 feet straight down. Blue Marlin weighing over 800 pounds are caught in this area by hardy anglers willing to challenge the man in the blue suit.

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