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January 20, 2011

2010: A Skiff Odyssey

How four guys in two boats fished the Florida Keys in four days

Day Four: Islamorada to Key Biscayne

Keys fishing6 a.m.: An early exit put us on Islamorada's Gulf flats in greasy, calm conditions. At Lignumvitae Channel, Tyler and Chris caught sight of two permit and a 100pound tarpon working down the edge. After three failed opportunities there and two encounters with stuck-up bonefish on Peterson Key Bank, we ran farther into the Gulf to fish Rabbit Key on Nine Mile Bank.

8:30 a.m.: We had bonefish in mind at Rabbit, but a school of redfish surprised us. Derek unleashed his 6weight fly rod with a rust-colored Borski Slider and had no problem enticing a red. Chris and Tyler also caught two reds on crabs.

10 a.m.: We returned to Islamorada, refueled at Worldwide Sportsman and purchased more bait for the Key Largo to Biscayne Bay leg. By that time, the wind had increased from a light-and-variable puff to a sustained 15knot breeze from the northeast.

1 p.m.: Storm cells brewed over the Everglades. Conscious of safety, we stabbed our bows into a tight, 2foot chop to make good headway through Key Largo's Baker Cut into Buttonwood Sound.

Idling through Grouper and Dunsbury creeks provided some reprieve from the steady wind, but it was short-lived when we entered Blackwater Sound. Along the north shore, the prominent, new 18-Mile Stretch Overpass clearly marked Gilbert's Resort and entrance to Jewfish Creek. We tied up at Gilbert's for a powwow.

"I don't like the look of that," Tyler said pointing north. "The radar tells me those storm cells extend from downtown Miami all the way to Homestead, and they're moving over Biscayne." We made the decision to cover the next 15 miles as fast as we could through Barnes and Card sounds, passing under Card Sound Bridge to reach Broad Creek.

3:30 p.m.: We had avoided the rain, and to the north, Old Rhodes Key blocked the wind from Cutter Bank to some extent. Our vision was best poling into the wind, and it didn't take long to see our first school of bonefish.

Derek closed the last chapter of our angling adventure with a small bonefish. Only a leader length from the skiff, the fish ate a fly at the eastern fringe of Cutter Bank.

5:40 p.m.: The last 25 miles heading home rocked our small skiffs. It was a welcome sight to see our vehicles at the Crandon boat ramp, just as we had left them.

***

What to Bring

Tackle:

  • Two 7-foot-6-inch, light-medium ­spinning rods with 10-pound PowerPro on Shimano Sustain 4000s for pitching light jigs and shrimp.
  • For tarpon (up to 60 pounds) and permit, two 7-foot, medium-heavy ­spinning rods with 15-pound PowerPro on Shimano Sustain 5000s - kept locked and loaded nearby with a live crab dangling in the water.
  • Three fly rods - 6-, 8- and 10-weights - with appropriate flies and species-specific leaders.
  • Two Shimano Tyrnos 16 conventional reels with 50-pound PowerPro, medium-heavy 6-foot-6-inch Trevala rods for tugging on goliath grouper and larger sharks.
  • Short- and long-shank hooks, sizes 2, 1, 1/0 and 2/0 for mangrove snappers, permit, tarpon and bones - plus, 7/0 to 9/0 circle hooks for big baits.
  • Monofilament leader from 10- through 100pound. Malin stainless No. 4 wire for barracudas; doubled and twisted for sharks.
  • Artificial lures: D.O.A. Shrimp and TerrorEyz, jigs with soft ­plastics and Gulps!, plugs, spoons and tube lures.

Other helpful gear:

  • Besides keeping a GPS on board, print out satellite images from Google Earth (www.google.com/earth). Print the screen images from your computer and use a binder with plastic sleeves to organize the images according to the direction you'll be heading.
  • A Wi-Fi-enabled cell phone that can pull up the latest weather radar. Bookmark www.radar.weather.gov into favorites.
  • Insect repellent!
  • Lightweight clothes that dry fast when washed with hand soap. Long-sleeve shirts, long pants, buff headwear and a hat, as well as SPF 30 sunscreen.


Gasoline Needs

18-foot-8-inch skiff powered by 115 hp two-stroke Evinrude EFI
Total fuel cost = $307.60
415 miles/81.2 gallons = 5.1 mpg

18-foot skiff powered by 60 hp four-stroke Suzuki
Total fuel cost = $192.70
415 miles/50.5 gallons = 8.2 mpg

About the Author: Adrian E. Gray, who has a marine biology degree and a strong background in graphic design, works as the creative coordinator for the International Game Fish Association in Dania Beach, Florida. Gray spends his free time fishing or pursuing his passion for photography and marine art.