I’ve endured many a grueling trip to some of the world’s most remote flats-fishing destinations in pursuit of fly- and light-tackle angling’s Holy Grail—the Flats Slam—when an angler manages to release a bonefish, a permit and a tarpon all on the same day.
Plenty of places, I’ve released two of three. A coral head cost me the third one, a permit, one time on an atoll far off the coast of Belize. The Flats Slam is a hard thing to accomplish anywhere, but this spring I’m determined to pull it off. Without adding any stamps to my passport. I’m just going to cruise on down to Miami and fish Biscayne Bay with a couple of local guide buddies who know there’s no place like home to catch the big three rock stars of the flats.
The Biscayne Bay National Park protects more than 172,000 acres encompassing vast emerald grassflats, coral reefs and towering mangrove islands. It is truly astounding that such magnificent wilderness can coexist adjacent to a city as large as Miami. If you’re flying in to fish, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of what I mean. Here’s the “skinny” on flats fishing and more in this amazing ecosystem.
The Flats Slam
It is possible to catch the Flats Slam year round. But the best season for catching a bonefish, a tarpon and a permit in one day, or at least in one trip, is the late spring, late April into July. This is because the big schools of adult, migratory tarpon move through then, while the water on the flats is warm and stable. Bright, sunny days and warm water temps welcome the tarpon and invite bonefish and tarpon to feed on the flats. Tides have a huge influence on fish behavior. Fortunately, they’re predictable. Before booking, ask your guide to set aside the dates with the most favorable tides.
Bonefish average four to five pounds in Biscayne Bay, and anglers frequently release fish larger than 10 pounds. This ecosystem arguably supports the world’s biggest bonefish. And big equals old and wise. They make challenging targets for fly fishermen. So practice, practice, practice your casting before you head to Miami. There’s no shame in throwing a live crab or shrimp at one, either. They’re still hard to fool. Tip: This is the place to set a new bonefish world record.
The smaller fish tend to feed in large schools. These wily, spooky fish become competitive when a fly, lure or bait hits the water, and behave more like their close cousin, the jack crevalle, which feeds with reckless abandon. They offer the best shot at the most difficult fish in the slam. Huge permit, fish 30 to 50 pounds, also cruise the flats, usually alone or in small groups. The best way to catch one is with a live crab. But, fly anglers have a long history of catching the big fish dating way back to when the flies were not so lifelike and the rods not nearly so accurate as they are today. Biscayne Bay is also one of the best places to catch a jumbo permit, and potentially world record.
The annual tarpon migration moves through Miami beginning in April, typically. It is truly a sight to behold when pods of tarpon measuring in the dozens of fish cruise slowly in three feet of sapphire-clear water. These fish are giants, mostly running over 100 pounds. If fly fishing, bring a 12- or 13-weight rod. The fish are wise and powerful. Juvenile tarpon are available year round, and are much easier to fool.
Three Great Guides
Other types of fishing
Offshore fishing out of Miami Beach is exceptional, and takes place a short run from the beach. Sailfish are in season November through March. Mahi mahi are caught year round but fishing is best in the spring and fall.
Swordfishing, both by day and night, is good year round but fall offers the best tides and moon phases. Fishing along the reefs is good for king and cero mackerel, and for yellowtail snappers.
Great Offshore Captains
Other Things to Do
One of the best things about a fishing trip to the greater Miami area is the plethora of luxury and entertainment options. Of course, South Beach’s nightlife is legendary. Many anglers spend a down day relaxing with the family at the beach. And Miami is the international shopping destination. If you can’t get enough of the ocean, the area offers exceptional diving and snorkeling.