Backcountry Summer Time Key West

The Backcountry Brings the Heat


Summer time is the perfect time to get out on the water on those nice crystal clear, gorgeous Key West days. The sun is hot, the water is peaceful, and the fish are amped up. This is the best time to get out to go after your hard to catch and hard to find species. While the conditions are right, the backcountry will open you up to things you can only experience here in Key West. Lets all take advantage of the moments Mother Nature has offered us.

To start the early morning days off in the backcountry, I like to take a look at what I have been given for the day. The tides and the winds play a big part in what we do and what we go after out on the water. This time of year we have pretty big and strong tides. The winds are typically pretty reasonable and don’t mess with where we fish too often. In the backcountry, I like to find my low tides and when I will have my best shot at species that are moving on and off the flats and on the edges of channels. Low-incoming tides are my favorite because you know that a few select species will be on their way on to the flats and pushing up in the shallows as soon as they can. The last of the outgoing tide works well too, seeing fish make their way back into the deeper areas. Given the pristine summer time conditions, we can see some amazing things.

Key West Permit Fishing

A Permit caught in the Marquesas with Capt. Kyle Kelso

Permit, the illusive flats species that everyone dreams of catching, thrives on these flats and channel edges. A permit, part of the jack family, is one of the most difficult species amongst the backcountry. They have a keen eye, an amazing sense of smell, and they don’t hang out too much longer after they sense a threat. Permit are one of those species that I like to find on the low incoming tide I was referring to. They creep on the edges of channels and wait until the tide is just right to where they can make their move up on top of the flats. When we have those glass-like lake conditions, permit are way easier to spot but extremely spooky. Some refer to these conditions as “tailing conditions” because you will often see these fish stick their tails and dorsal fins out of the water when they are feeding. Another time you will see these fish half out of the water is when they are hovering in a group in the shallows waiting for the tide to change. Small crabs are king in this environment, and it’s what’s for breakfast for these hungry trophy fish. We have to use very thin leader sizes due to the water clarity paired with small hooks. Sometimes it is hard to make a presentation without spooking these guys, but once you’re hooked up, be ready for a fight like no other.

Another species that lurks the shallows in the backcountry is the bonefish. They are super hard to spot even on clear days and don’t always give you much to look for other than a shadow. Bonefish are the ghosts of the flats. On low tides they do in fact lay low in some shallow channels or on the deeper edges of the flats, but targeting them like this can be very difficult. There are so many other small species of fish that live in the tall grass on the edges and middle of channels to where catching your bonefish in the mix would be pretty random. Waiting until the tide is right for these fish will give you the opportunity to spot them on the flats. When the tide comes in, or even when it is almost out, there are only a select few things you will see on the flats. Sting rays, small sharks, and bait will be just about the only things able to swim at these depths other than bonefish. This helps narrow it down pretty well when the tide is so low. Bonefish will not always stick their tails out of the water and sometimes just make a small wake when they are moving. I like to use buck tail jigs, sometimes tipped with shrimp for scent. Leading these fish off a few feet will give them the opportunity to smell what you’re putting down and make their way to the jig. And for fly fishing, a shrimp pattern or small crab pattern fly will work perfectly. Bonefish are a lot harder to find than the permit, but a little easier to catch when they are present. For a smaller fish, they sure do know how to pull out some drag!