Late Summer/Early Fall’s Last Flats Hurrah?
By: Capt. Mark Krowka
Both water and air temperatures have finally showed signs of dropping, if by only a few degrees, setting the stage for the official change of seasons. Bonefish and permit are still plentiful, but Autumn masses of baitfish, glass minnows, pilchards and mullet, have been responsible for a welcomed sharp increase in the supply of determined small to medium tarpon (and of course other predators) throughout the Keys. Baby tarpon are to adults……. as sliders are to hamburgers.
Alan Routman from Fort Lauderdale culled out 2 large animals, a 150 pound lemon shark, and a 125 pound sandbar shark, both taken on 15 pound spin and lively pinfish with 60 pound mono leaders, to finally get to his ballistic 45 pound tarpon, all before sunrise near Tom”s Harbor Channel. In brisk 25mph winds he camped out on adjacent flats with live shrimp to rake in 5 ghostly bonefish up to 5 pounds on 10 pound spinning tackle. While trying for a permit back in the Islamorada area, he added on a 30 pound tarpon that eagerly accepted a live crab while drifting down a weed-filled tide rip.
Ed Scopelitis and Matt Sisler from Charleston SC posted nearly equal dark of the morning numbers and battled twin large 100 pound plus sandbar sharks that zeroed in on large live pinfish dangled under corks on 17 pound spinners. They followed up going 1 for 3 on tarpon bites, landing and releasing a very aerial 40 pounder that inhaled a giant live shrimp. Later, on the Oceanside of Islamorada while staked out in 20mph winds, Ed & Matt throttled 8 bones up to 4 pounds out of 11 bites, with a hectic doubleheader thrown in, all while using live shrimp.
Brothers Vic & Chad Unterbrink took identical 4 pound bones on live shrimp just after first light. One, a single cruiser, and the other, part of a tailing group of 10 that recklessly butted heads to get to the bait first. Vic eased back a live crab directly into a turbulent pocket of current in a channel near Indian Key and came tight to and landed a scrappy 25 pound plus permit. Then while running late morning on the Bayside of Grassy Key, the pair noticed circling and dipping seagulls near large floating matts of weed. Idling in closer and carefully, they saw the obvious surface signs of busting and gurgling small tarpon. The Unterbrinks poled in stealthfully, and caught 5 of the silver kingettes, from 8 to 20 pounds. Two of the rambunctious rollers pounded live shrimp on 10 pound spin and 40 pound leaders. The other 3 plastered a floating, foam-eyed barred wing shrimp imitation on an 8 weight with 30 pound fluorocarbon leader.
Vic Unterbrink’s fat permit
Collins Forman from Fort Lauderdale and Ivan Lee from Alamo, CA stuck the pole into an intersection of 2 channels on the Gulfside of Islamorada and drifted back live pinfish on 17 pound spin to get an instant bite. The mystery fighter slugged it out deep, and eventually raised up revealing 10 surprise pounds of cubera snapper. Stealing the first pinfish clearly made the awaiting tarpon silver with envy. Over the next hour, all dunked pins had their lifespan significantly shortened, as Forman & Lee were a perfect 8 for 8, high flyers from 25-40 pounds. One of the lengthy leapers launched itself into the 18 HPX, thankfully landing just ahead of the outboard, and back into the water on the other side, somehow safely avoiding the cockpit! After sunrise they landed one more tarpon that crumpled a pilchard. Soon after, Ivan picked off an 18 pound permit that munched a small blue crab in the center of a channel near Lower Matecumbe Key. Then, on the always delectable live shrimp, these long time friends racked up 5 bonefish up to 5 pounds and 2 muttons to give Ivan his first Grand Slam and first Super Slam!
Ivan Lee’s First Permit!
Derrick DiBiase from Franklin, MA brought down some incredible good fortune with him from the far North. He spent 3 days in the Islamorada area, joined on day one by Tom Choberka from Palm Beach Gardens. The morning began somewhat routinely, with 4 tarpon bites and a landed 40 pounder, all pulverizing wobbling pinfish. Then Derrick and Tom stumbled onto a full acre of pilchards, actively being destroyed by dive bombing pelicans near Duck Key. They dropped a 7 foot castnet into the dark mass to confiscate several dozen prime baits to dump into the well. These small silver kings were more than receptive for over an hour. They landed 9 more wild poons out of 14 bites, some on sporty 10 pound spinning. But the day’s action was far from over. During increasing stiff 25mph winds and accumulating cloud cover, the twosome used live shrimp to catch 8 bonefish up to 4 pounds out of 10 bites!
Dereck Dibiase’s 30 pound permit
Tom Choberka’s tarpon
DiBiase was solo on day 2 and quickly went 5 for 8 on energetic tarpon up to 40 pounds on the vibrating pinfish, and concluded the dark-thirty session with a hefty 85 pounder. The same pilchard event was a go at the same spot with fattened up diving birds. Derreck used freshly castnetted pilchards to collect 6 more tarpon out of 10 bites to cap off an 11 tarpon morning! Cloud cover evaporated and enabled some serious stalking on a nearby Ocean edge to search for permit. A dark mass of a dozen or so white lipped targets moved into range and plowed the well casted crab. After several impressive runs to deeper water, the 30 pound permit was gently de-hooked and thrust back to his buddies.
DiBiase’s other 30 pound permit!
Derrick saved his best for the last day. DiBiase owns the internationally famous Italian Bistro “Cafe Assisi”, in Wrentham, MA. He cranked up 2 delicious keeper mutton snappers that thrashed live shrimp near Little Basin in the Islamorada area. Again locating the pilchard and pelican circus, baits were netted and 6 out of 10 tarpons were safely tucked away. Winds stayed at 20+ knots, but proved helpful in providing twin 3 pound bones on shrimp from the No Name Key area of banks. A solitary 15 pound permit fell all over a quarter-sized live crab in the Lignum Vitae Key area. In climactic fashion, on the last flat of the day, a formation of 25 large permit flashed and exposed themselves over some mottled bottom in 4 feet of water near the Long Key Viaduct Bridge. One of them lifted up and chomped Derrick’s small crab and was off on a run of nearly 200 yards on the light 10 pound spinner. Another tough 20 minute struggle that ended happily with yet another 30 pound permit, completing DiBiase’s dramatic Double Super Slam!
Maverick Blogservation: Pelicans and baitfish. Correctly reading the behavior of pelicans often means paving the way for a successful outing. Watch the dive. A slow motion lift of the head after surface impact almost always indicates glass minnows. This careful and purposeful raise drains water out slowly, trying not to open the beak too far to leak out the goodies. If there are seagulls present, molesting diving pelicans, even landing directly on their head immediately after the plunge, chances are, once again, the target is glass minnows. The gulls will meticulously pick out the escaped or partially exposed minnows that the pelican has tediously collected. A quicker heads up motion out of the water, and exaggerated gulps usually indicate larger baits. If there are no obvious showers of mullet, there are likely pilchards present. Pelicans will fly parallel to the water and flop in sideways on shallow water mullet. Mullet in deeper water will require the straight in and corkscrew style. Fast moving and cannonballing sorties of pelicans often indicate much larger pilchards, hopefully the speedier, more desirable and more elusive razor-bellied variety. These can cut badly if you run your finger the wrong way on their underside, hence the name. The softer, mushier Sandy Key pilchards are generally slower and easier to net, but do not stay alive nearly as long as the razors will. Several pelicans sitting in a perimeter-like spread are usually fat, happy, full and next to a mass of pilchards they don’t want to paddle too far away from. Interestingly, all pelicans turn to the left upon impact after a dive. Wonder if they turn right in the Southern Hemisphere?