Some of the gifts that I've been most grateful for over the years have been travel opportunities. As anglers, we love to explore new waters, target new species and learn new tactics. Florida has more species of fish to catch in beautiful waters than any other state in the union, and we have always been on the vanguard of pioneering angling tactics. Trust me, the gift of a fishing trip to Florida won't soon be forgotten. Here are some of my favorite places and the best times to fish them.
Tarpon fever sets in by April, though migration front -runners and "resident" fish are caught in March. There are lots of places to catch tarpon, including Homossassa, Boca Grande, Everglades National Park, Miami and Stuart. But there's no better or more iconic place to tarpon fish than the Keys. Islamorada and waters near the Bahia Honda Bridge are top spots. Florida Keys Outfitters in Islamorada and The Saltwater Angler in Key West can point you to top guides. Fly anglers wanting luxury accommodations including deluxe accommodations and your own chef, plus expert guide service, should check out Gordon Baggett's Bahia Honda Sporting Club.
The Treasure Coast, especially the Stuart area, touts itself as "The Sailfish Capital of the World." They aren't kidding, but it's mostly a winter fishery. In the summer, though, you can target an enormous range of species. Inshore, fishing is red hot for red drum, speckled trout, snook and tarpon. Tarpon, cobia, jumbo jacks and permit are thick right off the beach. Offshore, which isn't very far offshore in this area, you can expect to catch kingfish, false albacore, dolphin (mahi mahi), cobia, amberjack, several species of snapper and grouper, as well as fair numbers of summer sailfish. Give the Snook Nook a call. They'll hook you up with a top guide. River Palms Cottages and the Hutchinson Island Marriott are great places to stay in the area.
Giant redfish school up in the Gulf passes, especially in the Big Bend and Northwest Florida area. Inshore, smaller reds in and around the slot limit gaggle up in massive schools in the salt marshes. Speckled trout are also eating like crazy to fatten up for winter. And, grouper season is on. My favorite destinations include Steinhatchee, St. Marks Bay and the Destin area.
Unlike most places around the world, U.S. fishermen have taken good care of our sailfish population, and the fishing has been better than in anyone's living memory. Palm Beach County sits at the top of the list as a destinatio – give the West Palm Beach Fishing Club a call about the best local captains. But Stuart, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Keys all have easy access to the winter run.