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Florida Keys Fishing Trip Planner: September

From Islamorada south, bonefish take center stage for anglers fishing the shallows in September.

August 24, 2016
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September Fishing in the Florida Keys

Keys Sunrise
In the month of September, head out to the flats to target bonefish. Stealth and stamina are required to pole across flats looking for telltale signs. Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau

Wondering what to fish for in September in the Florida Keys? One great option is bonefish. Keys bonefish grow large, offering anglers beefy targets. Catch them in September near Islamorada.

For the best opportunity to catch numerous bonefish on Islamorada’s flats, Capt. Ted Benbow and his son, Capt. Donnie, fish the top of the incoming tide and the start of the falling tide. Benbow prefers spinning gear rigged with 10-pound braid, or 10-weight fly rods paired with small crab patterns.

“Bonefishing is all about the food source and moving water,” says Benbow. “It’s great to see bones tailing in super-shallow water. But in two feet of water, when they’re schooling and producing mud poofs, you know they’re in a feeding mood.”

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Bonefish release
Keys bonefish grow large, offering anglers beefy targets. Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com

Fooling a single bonefish into striking is much harder than casting to a school of bonefish competing with one another. Still, the Benbows love spending their days sight-casting a fly to spooky bonefish.

“We frequently practice throwing the fly rod with the left and right hand,” says Benbow. “This way, there is no need to backcast; we just switch hands when needed. We make it into a game, trying to catch one with each hand on the same trip.”

Marathon Bonefishing

keys sight fishing
A Florida Keys flats guide idles away from the dock during the dawn of a new day. Bob Krist/Florida Keys News Bureau

Bonefish tournaments also ramp up in the Keys in September.

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Since 1959, the lighthearted Marathon International Bonefish Tournament has appealed to fun-loving anglers from around the country. Among the Middle Keys’ oldest charitable fishing events, the challenge is set for Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 22-25.

The tournament is one of the few in which anglers can fish without a professional guide. The competition can be rowdy, a characteristic of its community camaraderie and zeal.

Bonefishing
Bonefish are traditionally caught on flies or live crustaceans, but they’ll also attack artificial presentations too. Doug Olander

Trophies and prizes are awarded to the individual and team champions scoring the largest bonefish and permit and to the top anglers in fly and grand slam divisions (for the top spin or fly angler who releases the largest bonefish, permit and tarpon “slam”).

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Other awards include the cheeky wet-pants champion titles for anglers wading from shore.

Registration for the 2016 tournament is $225 per adult angler and $125 per junior angler. The kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, at Key Colony Inn, located at 700 W. Ocean Drive in Key Colony Beach, followed by a cocktail party.

Fishing runs from lines-in at 8:30 a.m. to lines-out at 3:30 p.m. daily. Cocktail parties follow Friday and Saturday’s fishing and an awards banquet is set for Sunday evening after the final day of fishing. All post-fishing events are to be held at Key Colony Inn.

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The Key West S.L.A.M.

Key West aerial
An aerial photo of Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States and last of the islands in the Florida Keys chain. Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau

Tournament targets exist beyond just bonefish in September.

Anglers, guides and celebrities are to fish for elusive shallow-water gamefish during the Robert James Sales S.L.A.M. Celebrity Fishing Tournament, set for Friday through Sunday, Sept. 9-11.

Tournament competitors target tarpon, permit and bonefish, and scoring all three in one day is known as a flats grand slam. Points are earned for catching and releasing fish in fly, artificial or bait categories, with prizes awaiting champion anglers, teams and guides.

The S.L.A.M. is the first in an annual Florida Keys trilogy of angling challenges that raises money for the fight against cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening chronic lung disease that is the United States’ leading genetic killer of children and young adults.

Celebrity participants typically include sports stars such as Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and former Denver Broncos football player Mark Cooper, as well as other notables such as former NASA space shuttle astronaut Bruce Melnick.

bonefish in clear water
In warm-water conditions, ­blind-casting can pay dividends. The trick is to find deeper water near productive flats with current. Doug Olander

The Superfly, a one-day, one-fly tournament sponsored by The Angling Company in Key West, occurs just before the S.L.A.M. The Superfly is based at Hurricane Hole Restaurant & Marina, mile marker 4.5 oceanside, and fishing takes place Friday, Sept. 9.

Registration for the S.L.A.M. is set for 5:30-6:30 p.m. Friday at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Grand Key, 3990 S. Roosevelt Blvd. A reception, rules meeting, silent auction and live auction are scheduled as well.

Fishing is slated for 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Tournament participants and the Redbone family are to gather for a 3-5 p.m. dockside party Saturday and a 3-5 p.m. luncheon and awards ceremony Sunday at Hurricane Hole.

Entry for the S.L.A.M., which includes two days’ charter fees with a professional guide, is $3,700 for a two-angler team. Superfly entry is $350 per angler who also fishes the S.L.A.M. or $500 to fish the Superfly only.

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