Best Tarpon and Permit Fishing Season
April is one of the most popular months to come fishing in the Keys. There are so many different things going on in the fishery that it is hard not to plan your vacation to the Keys this time of year. We have the tarpon migration starting, the permit spawn out at the reefs and wrecks, as well as mahi-mahi and sailfish getting hot in the blue water. As well as being one of the most popular months to fish, it is also the high season for people traveling to Key West. For all the anglers I get to take out this time of year, everyone wants something different. This part of the year gives us many options, so getting into such a diverse catch comes a little easier.
Tarpon are one of the most popular types of fish to go after in the backcountry of Key West in the spring months. They also happen to be the most powerful and rewarding fish to catch. With many hard runs, head shakes, jumps and thrashes, they put any angler up to the test. Tarpon start their migration through the Keys in late March and early April, all weather dependent. Some warmer years we have seen a big push of fish come in January and February, which can all come to a halt if we get a cold front. Tarpon will make their way into the harbor of Key West, as well as many areas out in the backcountry and shallows. We will get new pushes of fish daily, all coming in from deeper water. When they are first coming in they roll very fast while on the move. Once they settle down a good bit, they are a little easier to target.
Tarpon are a lot of people’s favorite fish to catch because of their difference in fight compared to other species. Most fish you can just pump and reel it’s all the way to the boat. There are many things that can cause a tarpon to break loose. Many of these break offs are due to undersized tackle, pressuring the fish too much when they are not ready to give up, and of course the fish jumping and landing on the line causing it to snap. Sometimes the battle requires many different techniques to get your fish to the boat. The hookup is the most important part of the fight. Letting the fish initially run is crucial, then pressure can be added to drive the hook into their hard, abrasive jaw. If the hookup is good, then the rest of the fight is a little easier. Bowing to tarpon is another good method when they jump. It relieves the line of too much pressure when they come out of the water, helping the fish stay on. Boating a tarpon can also be a big moment in the fight. Sometimes the fish isn’t ready to be handled, causing them to thrash even more and possibly dislodge the hook. Once landed, you’ll be glad you finally won the fight.
Permit are another popular fish to catch throughout the Keys and Key West. They are one of the most illusive and hard to catch species we have down here. Many people don’t understand their complexity, which causes them to move on to something else before they even see one. Permit are very smart, especially when on the flats. Sight casting is pretty much the only way to hook into a permit, so the waiting game can get tough. Permit do spawn out at some of the reefs and wrecks though in April, making them a little easier to target. They bunch up in big groups inshore, and then head out to the deeper waters to spawn. It isn’t unusual to see groups of five hundred permit out at each spot.
Out at one of the spawning locations, permit can be seen up at the surface in big packs. They will often times stick their backs completely out of the water when they are comfortable. We try and make as little noise as possible when fishing the spawn. Even though the permit are not too worried about us, we don’t want to give them any reason to scurry down to the bottom. Using live crabs is the best method in hooking one, yet buck tail jigs can also be a good tactic. As long as there are no hungry sharks around, the fight is typical to any other permit caught in deeper water. They give long hard runs, and take a very long time to wear out. My anglers have caught many permit at these spawning locations, getting good pictures before their release. Permit are off limits for harvesting in most areas throughout the Keys.