Florida Keys Fishing Trip Planner: March

The Florida Keys offer anglers opportunities at billfish and permit in March.

March Fishing in the Florida Keys

permit fishing

Permit

Target permit on the grass flats of the Content Keys.Adrian E. Gray

Before permit head to deeper waters in April to spawn, Capt. Lenny Leonard targets them on the shallow flats of the Lower Keys. From the Gulf's Content Keys west to the Marquesas, permit fishing is available most months of the year, with February and March attracting the largest fish to the flats. Look for flats with hard bottom and plenty of current — chances are permit will be feeding or staging nearby. When fishing the flats, watch for the flash of the fish's sides reflecting direct sunlight.

“I believe those fish are pre-feeding at this time,” says Leonard. “They head shallow to eat and warm up their bellies — almost an incubation period for the eggs.”

permit fishing catch
Not all Florida Keys permit are this massive, but there are enough around that trophy catches are a real possibility.Doug Olander / sportfishingmag.com

Leonard sight-fishes shallow flats in less than 3 feet of water, preferring fly tackle, though he guides both fly and spin anglers regularly.

“Using a live crab seems to work best, but permit will definitely eat a live shrimp presented properly on a diamond bucktail jig,” he says. On fly, Leonard prefers an 8- to 10-weight setup with a floating line. “Since most of the crab-imitator fly patterns have dumbbell eyes, there’s no need to use a sinking fly line if the fly sinks,” he says.

Permit flats fishing
Permit blend in to the white, sandy flats where they're found. See them before they see you and you have a chance to hook up.Doug Olander / sportfishingmag.com

Besides fun fishing for permit, proficient fly anglers can compete in the March Merkin Invitational Permit Tournament from March 13 to 16. This year the tournament is held at Key West Harbour Yacht Club on Stock Island. The rules are simple: fly-caught fish must be boated, measured, tagged and photographed on a measuring device. At the close of each fishing day, a catch form, marked tape and tagging data sheet must be submitted. All proceeds from the tournament go to the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and the Lower Keys Guides Association.

Jimmy Johnson Tournaments Take Over

Jimmy Johnson wahoo catch
Jimmy Johnson, famed football coach, hoists a wahoo that struck a trolled lure off Islamorada.Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau

Jimmy Johnson’s Celebrity Pro-Am Championship, Dates Wednesday, March 8 and Thursday, March 9

A chance for Jimmy Johnson’s celebrity friends to fish with pro anglers for a fun day of competition. Rings will be awarded to the top celebrity anglers and top boat as they fish for billfish and other species. The Pro Am takes place on Thursday, March 9 from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Results will be scored via a point system based on the number of fish caught (whether released or boated).

sailfish catch
Sailfish will be a hot commodity throughout the tournament, with teams vying for a chance to win the $1 million purse.Doug Olander / sportfishingmag.com

The National Billfish Championship is 2-day billfish tournament that features some of the top anglers in the country. Fishing teams compete for a guaranteed purse of $1 million. Registered anglers receive one point for their boat for each eligible billfish release in the tournament. All team and individual prize categories are awarded based on the individual or team’s overall point standings. Throughout its short 5-year history, this tournament has awarded almost $2 million in prize money and 5 championship rings. General boat entry starts at $2,500 and $5,000.

Schedule:

Wednesday, March 8: 4-6PM registration and captain’s meeting

Friday, March 10: 7:30AM-4PM lines in and out

Saturday, March 11: 7:30AM-2PM lines in and out

Jimmy Johnson dolphin catch
Formerly coach of the Miami Dolphins, Johnson poses with a big bull caught aboard one of his two offshore boats.Rhonda Johnson

Jimmy Johnson’s National Sportfish Championship: March 11

The Sportfish Championship takes place Saturday, March 11 in Key Largo during the Jimmy Johnson Fishing Week. Anglers compete for dolphin, wahoo, tuna, cobia and kingfish. This one-day, fun-fish competition awards a purse and coveted rings to winners. Boat entry starts at $375.

Schedule:

Friday, March 10: 4-6PM registration and captain’s meeting

Saturday, March 11: 7:30-2PM lines in and out, followed by weigh-in at Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill Contender Barge