March Fishing in Key West

March 6, 2004 By: Marshall Cutchin

We came to Key West on Thursday with the goal of catching Jim L. his first permit on fly.
Yesterday began fishing in the early morning in a 25-knot southeast wind. We ran west to the gulf side of the Lakes, shut down, and about 15 seconds later a permit tailed in front of us on one of the fingers of flat not far off the Northwest Channel. Unfortunately the fish stuck around for only one cast; you need more than one cast in a 25-knot wind. We poled a mile or so but saw no more fish there.
We then ran around Cottrell Key to fish the area west of there, but there were too many guides, so we ran back into the Lakes and fished the back side of an oceanside flat. There we had most of our shots of the day, but again the wind made things difficult. Jim L. had just a couple more shots back on the Northwest channel in later afternoon, when the wind died to around twenty, but altogether a day of challenging line management and permit that were spookier than they should have been, given the conditions.
Today, given the paucity of fish where we fished yesterday, we ran to the Marquesas after fishing a prime oceanside spot that produced no sightings. When we arrived in the Marquesas we cut through Mooney Harbor to the West side where we immediately began to see some smaller permit. Jim L. cast to a couple of fish but again they were relatively touchy and though we had a tire-kicker, we got no eats. We then ran back up the flat a mile or so, and fished another section of the West side, where we saw one nice tailing, mudding permit, about 20 lbs. Jim L. got the fly to the fish but just slightly too close, and the fish blew.
We then ran up around a “never-fished” flat that I’ve caught many permit on and began poling west. We didn’t see much until we got about 200 yards down the flat, where Jim threw at one rather small permit, hitting himself a couple of times in the back in the process (left-hand wind with a left-handed caster); if you’ve never been hit in the back by a permit fly, let me tell you: it hurts. That fish refused the fly and swam off.
Two minutes later another fish began tailing about 100 feet from the channel edge. Jim had another bad wind angle and it was still blowing about 15. Though I was worried he would hesitate to cast because of the last experience, he dropped a perfect presentation about 4 feet from this fish, the fish swam over and picked up the fly and Jim brought the line tight to keep the fish from spitting it out. It all worked. Jim cleared the line and 10 minutes later had his first permit in hand, a very nice bright fish of about 12 or 13 lbs. We cast to numerous other smaller permit throughout the afternoon and hooked a bonefish. All in all a very fine day with fish visible from 300 or 400 feet and bright cloudless sky and a moderate breeze, with Jim’s giddy relief making all the difficult poling seem suddenly effortless.
Of course, the day when you catch your first permit on fly cannot be made any more or less spectacular than what the fact of that catching provides.