Ultimate Guide • Updated Wed, Jun 28, 2023
Embarking on a flats fishing adventure in the beautiful Florida Keys requires the right gear to maximize your chances of success. Whether you're targeting bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook, or other coveted species, having the proper equipment is essential. From reels and lines to lures and clothing, our comprehensive gear guide covers everything you need to know to conquer the flats with confidence. Discover the best gear recommendations and expert tips to enhance your flats fishing experience and make the most of your time on the water.
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If you’re planning a fishing trip in the Florida Keys but don’t know what type of gear to pack, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve put together this comprehensive guide of essential gear for flats fishing in the waters of the Florida Keys and South Florida. We’ll cover everything from rods and reels to clothing and accessories that will ensure you have the best fishing experience on your next flats fishing trip.
Whether you are a fly angler or conventional gear fisherman, there are a few important features to consider when selecting the right rod for your trip to the flats.
You will typically want to fish rods between 7wt and 12wt size with a medium-fast to fast action. Faster action rods can make it easier to cast the larger flies required for saltwater flats fishing, especially in windier conditions. The optimal rod will depend on what species you are targeting, what type of flies and fly line you are throwing, and the weather conditions on the water. Selecting the right fly rod will ensure you have enough power to deliver quick, accurate casts, and enough backbone to combat the power and speed of the gamefish that frequent the flats of the Florida Keys.
|Fly Rod Size||Species||Flies and Fly Line|
|7wt-9wt||Bonefish, snapper, redfish, baby tarpon||Small streamers, topwater flies|
|9wt-10wt||Larger bonefish, permit, medium sized tarpon, snook||Larger streamers, medium topwater flies|
|10wt-12wt||Adult tarpon, barracuda||Large tarpon flies, cuda flies|
If you are using a spinning rod, look for a medium-heavy to heavy action rod, to have a strong base for casting baits into the wind and fighting bigger fish. Ideally the rod should be between 7 and 8 feet long to optimize for casting distance.
Reels are a crucial tool in any successful fishing trip, but even more so on the flats. The saltwater flats fishing environment and the species available on the flats of the Florida Keys should dictate a couple of key elements of your gear.
When fly fishing the flats of the Florida Keys, two must-haves in your fly reel are a large arbor and a strong drag. The large arbor reel retrieves more line per revolution, offers greater line capacity, and can help minimize tangles. A strong drag system is essential for tackling speedy and sizable fish in the Florida Keys flats like tarpon, bonefish, permit, and barracuda. A strong, smooth drag will give you sufficient fighting power, minimize line breakage, and make you a more effective angler. losing line during their powerful runs. As saltwater is rough on gear, ensure that your reel is well maintained and made of non-corrosive metals..
When spin fishing in the Florida Keys, it's essential to have a reel with a high line capacity for casting longer distances on the open flats. More capacity also allows you to fight the powerful flats-dwelling fish more effectively. Additionally, a reliable drag system is crucial to effectively control these fish during their powerful runs.
Choosing the proper line and leader material is invaluable to a successful day on the water, especially when flats fishing the Florida Keys. With a myriad of different options available, consider these main categories to determine what type of flats fishing line will work best for you.
1. Flats Fishing Monofilament Line
Flats fishing commonly relies on the use of monofilament line in a variety of ways. Monofilament line is used as leader material in fly fishing and spin fishing fishing, and can also be used to spool spinning reels. This type of line offers high knot strength, stealth, abrasion resistance, and a balanced combination of flexibility and stiffness. It’s also a relatively inexpensive option for filling up your reel. Its versatility allows for various fishing techniques, making it a reliable choice for anglers targeting large and powerful fish on flats fishing trips.
2. Flats Fishing Fluorocarbon Line
Fluorocarbon line is the ideal choice for flats fishing, serving well as both leaders and full spools. Its near-invisibility underwater, combined with its slightly greater density and exceptional sensitivity, makes it highly advantageous. The added density aids in achieving the desired lure or fly depth, while the heightened sensitivity allows anglers to detect strikes and bites more easily. Additionally, fluorocarbon line exhibits remarkable abrasion resistance, ensuring durability even after some wear and tear.
Braid lines are advantageous for targeting large or hard-fighting species in the Florida Keys flats. With superior strength and increased sensitivity, they excel at detecting subtle bites and strikes. Unlike monofilament or fluorocarbon lines, braided lines are highly visible in the water, making them ideal for casting on windy or rough days. Their high visibility helps cut through wind and water, facilitating accurate casting and effective presentation of bait or lures to fish. They also have the smallest diameter of any line type, allowing you to maximize the capacity of line on your reel.
Wire line is a valuable addition to your gear for Florida Keys flats fishing. Made from durable materials like stainless steel, it offers exceptional strength and resistance to abrasion. Wire line's toughness makes it ideal for targeting toothy predators like barracuda, sharks, mackerel, and some larger snapper. Note that specialized knots like the haywire twist are required when using wire line, and careful handling is necessary due to its stiffness and strength. Overall, wire line enhances your chances of success in the flats when targeting toothy gamefish by providing durability and strength.
During flats fishing, additional considerations are necessary to ensure a successful fly line setup. When targeting fish in the Florida Keys flats, incorporating a Weight Forward Taper is crucial. This 10-yard extension of your fly line places the majority of the weight, enabling longer casts with improved accuracy. Furthermore, using fly fishing lines specifically designed for flats fishing is essential. These lines have low stretch properties, which enhances sensitivity and improves hook setting power, increasing your chances of landing fish effectively. They also are designed to perform properly in the warmer waters of the flats surrounding the Florida Keys. Keep this in mind when planning a trip during cooler water temperatures, as it may influence the optimal fly line selection.
It is crucial to rinse your fishing gear thoroughly after each use in saltwater. The corrosive nature of salt can damage your equipment if left uncleaned. Therefore, taking the time to rinse your fishing gear, including rods, reels, lines, and hooks, helps remove salt deposits and prevent long-term damage. This simple maintenance practice extends the lifespan of your gear and ensures optimal performance for future fishing trips.
When fly fishing the flats of the Florida Keys, it is crucial that you select flies that mimic the natural prey of the gamefish you are after. There are many great choices for specific imitation flies, and some patterns that are more general. As a starting point, stock up on general patterns that imitate a range of small to large baitfish, as well as a variety of shrimp and crab patterns. These will cover your bases imitating baitfish and crustaceans commonly found on the flats of the Florida Keys. Crustacean flies are better for targeting bonefish and permit, while snook, tarpon, barracuda, and other species prefer to feed on baitfish. Thus, a baitfish imitation fly may be more effective for targeting these species. Here are some of our go-to fly patterns for different species of Florida Keys flats fish.
|Florida Keys Flats Species||Fly Patterns|
|Bonefish||Gotcha Fly, Crazy Charlie Fly, Spawning Shrimp Fly, Small Clouser Minnow Fly, Seaducer Fly|
|Tarpon||Tarpon Toad Fly, Black Death Fly, Palolo Worm Fly, Tarpon Cockroach Fly|
|Permit||Kung Fu Crab Fly, Merkin Fly, Fleeing Crab Fly, Del Brown Crab Fly, Mantis Shrimp Fly|
|Barracuda||Cuda Fly, Needlefish Fly, Lefty’s Deceiver Fly, Semper Fly, Popper Fly|
If you are spin fishing with artificial lures on the Florida Key flats are, you will also want to imitate baitfish and crustaceans that are a main food source for flats-dwelling gamefish. Soft plastic lures like DOA Shrimp, Baitbusters, paddle tail jigs, and unweighted Hogy lures are a great place to start. Ask the staff at local Florida Keys tackle shops for their favorite lures for each species, or book a flats fishing charter with one of the area’s top fishing guides to learn from the best.
Baits commonly used while fishing in the Florida Key flats are an array of live baitfish, crustaceans and cut bait. Check local tackle shops and marinas to purchase live or frozen bait like shrimp, crabs, pilchards, sardines, pinfish, goggle-eyes, mullet, and other good options. Crustaceans such as live crab and shrimp are common natural prey in the Florida flats and can attract species such as permit and bonefish, while baitfish are your best bet for tarpon, snook, and barracuda.
While it’s crucial to dial in your fishing setup for a successful day fishing the flats of the Florida Keys, what you wear and pack for the elements is just as important. Here are a couple of essential non-tackle items to secure before your next flats fishing trip.
On the flats, the sun is a critical element of great sight fishing experience — illuminating the water column and allowing anglers to spot their quarry. However, being prepared for full days of strong ultraviolet rays and bright conditions is a must. You should also consider that weather conditions can change quickly on the flats, especially during the summer months, so being prepared for a variety of weather conditions is key.
A good pair of polarized sunglasses are a necessity for the flats of the Florida Keys; good, polarized lenses cut through glare, allowing you to see better and fish more effectively, while also protecting your eyes from damaging UV rays. Find a pair of polarized sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection and fit well with good facial coverage. Consider lenses with a copper base or tint for heightened contrast to spot fish more easily in high sun, as well as a lowlight pair to see through the water better on overcast days.
On the flats of the Florida Keys, it is essential to dress appropriately to withstand the elements. Opting for breathable clothing is crucial, as it helps to keep you cool during long, hot days on the water. Sun protection is another important consideration, as the additional UV radiation while on the water can be significant. It is vital to shield yourself from harmful sun exposure, No-See-Ums and mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. Pack long sleeve clothing that provides breathability, protection against these insects, and a high UPF rating to avoid unwanted sunburns. In addition, neck gaiters or buffs offer extra coverage for your face and neck against the elements. It’s also never a bad idea to have a raincoat or windbreaker to throw on in the event of a popup storm or foul weather.
Sunblock is an indispensable component of flats fishing, providing essential protection against sunburns and sun poisoning while on the water. It is highly recommended to use a sunblock with a minimum SPF of 30, considering the high UV index of the Florida Keys, particularly during the summer months. Our favorite options are zinc-based for maximum protection. Dry bags or dry storage are another great addition to your flats fishing gear arsenal to keep valuables like phones, wallets, keys, and cameras safely stowed. Lastly, ensure that you bring plenty of fresh water any time you are fishing the flats of the Florida Keys to stay hydrated.
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