Few Locations on earth could match the diversity of life found at Flamingo, in Everglades National Park. An excursion into the Park, by water or road, immediately reveals nearly uncountable species of birds. Turtles, snakes, alligator and crocodile also abound at this rich juncture of fresh and saltwater in Southwestern Florida. The amount and variety of fish that it takes to support this vast ecosystem defies comprehension. They are all crowded in here, from shoreline minnows and mullet, to trophy tarpon and boxcar-sized sharks. It is possible that there might not be a better all around fishing destination in the world.
The winter months support dozens and dozens of South Florida guides. All skill levels of angler can be satisfied here, and in nearly all weather conditions. The novice can stake out in a mud, channel edge, basin or trough and enjoy a massive double or triple digit body count day, while fighting and landing multiple species. Specialized sight fishermen, spin or fly, can enjoy some of the very best redfish, snook, black drum and tarpon fishing found in the state.
It is all about properly working current conditions. While this Winter is unseasonably warm, cold fronts, even minor ones, can change the weather every few days. During approaching frontal conditions, winds can blow South and even Southwest up to the 20 mph plus range, and create some dynamic blind jigging, either with pure artificials, jigs tipped with Gulp, or the deadliest of all combos, the jig with a small section of fresh shrimp. The shrimp section is to a jig, what ketchup is to a french fry. By carefully working obvious mullet muds in deeper water, or knowing the right tides in channels, runoffs and troughs on the flats, you can routinely rack up days of over 100 or more sporty light tackle fish like: ladyfish, jack crevalle, trout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead, pompano, bluefish, ect. Also expect the occasional bonus like permit, tripletail, flounder or cobia.
During a November trip, Dr Alan Routman and his daughter Amanda caught 317 fish, which included 14 species. Also in November, Bob Puchinelli and Jim Pitts teamed up for a 156 fish day, and followed it with a 207 fish outing. In December, Jim Calareso nailed 173 fish, with 17 species. Dr. Kal Blumberg jigged up 210 assorted light tackle gamesters the next day. These are just a few highlights of multiple 100 plus fish days from the fall and early winter.
On those very special days, frequently (but not always) around periods of stronger moon tides, you could even catch all of these, and add some very large and impressive animals to the mix. While fishing in the spring, summer and fall, lay out a weighted slab of ladyfish, mullet, or jack crevalle for some of the monster sliding by, especially in the channels. Lemon sharks, blacktips, spinners, bulls, hammerheads and tigers are all potential encounters on the bottom baits. Of course the bottom bait is a little bit better than deadly for tarpon of all sizes. Several times over the course of the year, we hook and bring to boatside enormous sawfish, usually from 4 or 500 pounds and up.
Bill and Kim Ockerland took 3 lemons over 100 pounds, 3 blacktips in the 5 foot range, two tarpon of 120 and 130 pounds, and finished off the day (and themselves) with a 17 foot, 600 pounds sawfish. Mike Palmer also cranked up a 16 foot plus sawfish, after landing 5 lemon sharks from 50-150 pounds and a blacktip. Steve Jackman battled 9 lemons, 2 bulls and one blacktip, and has the painful blisters to show for it!
Calmer conditions ignite the flats out front at Flamingo. It is common to have 40 or more shots at redfish on the flats when the visibility allows. With fly, spin or plug, the lure or bait should be delivered within just a few inches of the red’s nose, even closer if his head is down and he is busy. This tight presentation will elicit, with nearly 100% certainty, a favorable response.
Snook seem to prefer things moving by, and slightly above their head. Large trout are the same. Black drum on the flats almost need the bait delivered into their mouth; they will seldom chase anything down.
Flyrod tarpon fishing is unparalleled here, both on the interior (Whitewater Bay) side, and the many edges, basins and channels of the Florida Bay side. Classic sight fishing in clearer spots is very Keys- like, casting to headwakers and rollers in dirty water. It’s a lead and strip timing equation, the best results coming from experience.
The fair weather, laid up silver kings are always at the top of the list for any tarpon enthusiast. These dark motionless logs may look like a sure thing, but the cast and retrieve must be made accurately, and at an appropriate speed for the resting target to inhale. There is likely no other bite in angling as exciting!
Over the course of a year, with all of the seasonal changes at Flamingo, many forms of fishing remain reliable no matter what the weather. The flexibility of the Mirage 18 HPX allows you to experience this fishery in its entirety, without changing boats. Check one out (along with a complete line of Maverick, Hewes, Pathfinder and Cobia) at the Miami International Boat Show in February. I will be at the Maverick booth on Saturday, February 16, and would very much look forward to talking about the incredibly versatile 18 HPX.
Capt. Mark Krowka