A Flats Fishing Calendar

Discover some of the best shallow-water fishing locations on the planet during the best months to visit them.

January 26, 2015

This guide covers a range of shallow-water ­environments, but all feature exceptional sight-fishing and stalking opportunities, with most providing both wading and boat-fishing options. After months of research talking to guides, lodge owners and destination outfitters, I have pieced together from those who know the areas best a selection of 12 destinations in the United States and around the world that would allow you to fish in a different location each month of the year — each in its prime time. In this gallery, we’ve included three bonus destinations, including Seychelles and Honduras. So start praying for that jackpot-lottery win, and use this information to plan your dream flats-fishing year.


Sport Fishing’s International Flats Calendar

Three pairs of eyes, cloaked in shades of polarized amber, were busy scanning the water ahead of the sun-bleached skiff. All they needed was a sign in the shallow water: a shadow, a fin or a tail. Any of those indications would start into motion a dance as old as time, started by the first hunter-gatherers who likely stalked fish in the shallow waters of flats, bays, marshes and estuaries. Their latter-day descendants, flats anglers, carry on this tradition. Much of the hunt remains unchanged, though the gear and catch-and-release mentality are very different. The fish themselves are still just as difficult to catch most of the time, yet it’s one of the most exhilarating and intoxicating forms of fishing. Once you’re hooked, you’ll want to seek out similar ­experiences in different locales. Pat Ford

January: Oahu, Hawaii

Source: Capt. Mike Hennessy Photos of big Hawaiian bonefish are shared socially on a fairly regular basis these days, especially as word of the great flats-fishing opportunities spreads. Huge fish are a possibility, with trophies in the ­10-plus-pound range not uncommon. “The funny thing is there really is no ‘better’ month,” says local guide, Capt. Mike Hennessy, when pushed for his favorite, “but I would say I like November through February, when tides are better and winds lighter. But we have no real seasons in Hawaii, so the fish just grow big!” Rumors abound of potential world-record-breaking bonefish swimming in Hawaiian waters. However, the species found here is not the same bonefish (Albula vulpes) found in the Caribbean, but a Pacific species known as the roundjaw bonefish (Albula glossodonta). There are 12 different bonefish species recognized by the scientific community, according to Aaron Adams, of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Denver Bryan

February: Exmouth, Western Australia

Source: Capt. Jono Shales “Prime permit season starts in spring, then into summer and the beginning of autumn (October to April)” says Exmouth guide Jono Shales. But these are no ­ordinary permit — they are the beautiful, golden-fringed Indo-Pacific variety. “Exmouth has extensive flats, and most are fishable throughout the year,” adds Shales, “with plenty of other species to be caught such as queenfish, bonefish, trevally and triggers.” Add that it’s also perfectly feasible to fish for sailfish, tuna and marlin offshore on the same day, and you can be spoiled by the choices. The pristine and beautiful Ningaloo Coast is ­recognized as a World Heritage site. Sitting adjacent to shore is Ningaloo Reef, a famous haunt for spotting whale sharks from March to October. The calm, protected waters inside the reef provide truly world-class fishing. Exmouth is somewhere special. courtesy Scott Thomas,

March: Christmas Island, Kiribati

Source: Brian Gies A common theme with fishing spots close to the Equator is the lack of real seasons, meaning the fishing is fairly constant all year. However, guide Brian Gies, with Christmas Island Outfitters, says he likes a variety of targets, and the best time to get that here is “a week that has a good swing from spring tides to neap tides,” which makes March a good bet. “I also want to be here when the ­weather’s bad at home.” If you are looking to fish a remote location, Christmas Island could be your answer. The atoll features endless hard, sand flats for fishing, with remarkable numbers of cruising bonefish and trevally. Located 1,200 miles south of Hawaii, Christmas Island (actually called Kiritimati) is part of Kiribati, a collection of island nations in the central Pacific that straddles the international date line. Pictured: A shuttle to the fishing grounds is sometimes necessary, as for these anglers heading to Christmas Island flats. Jim Klug

April: St. Brandon’s Atoll, Mauritius

Source: Jim Klug As a relatively new destination, St. Brandon’s Atoll is gaining quite a following thanks to its pristine seascape. Jim Klug, of Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures, is already a fan. “The biggest bonefish of the entire year are found generally from April through June, mostly due to slightly cooler water temperatures during this later period,” he says. “This is not to say anglers don’t get big bonefish during the early period, but overall, the numbers are generally higher during this time frame. April, specifically, delivers the largest bonefish of the year, fantastic shots at Indo-Pacific permit, and chances at the largest giant trevally found anywhere in the Indian Ocean.” It’s not an easy place to get to, but once you arrive and step foot on the flats of St. Brandon’s, you immediately know that you’ve arrived at a unique destination. The journey to the atoll includes a 24-hour boat ride from Mauritius on the M/Y Gryphon, a 96-foot motor yacht. The yacht also provides ­liveaboard ­accommodations at St. Brandon’s. One added benefit to the long ride is that you can troll to and from the island, adding to the excitement on board. Jim Klug

May: Ascension Bay, Mexico

Source: Rogelio Velasco The flats of beautiful Ascension Bay are synonymous with a high chance of a grand slam, particularly because of its year-round bonefish, permit and tarpon residents. “March, April, May and June are our peak season,” says Rogelio Velasco, owner of the perennially popular Pesca Maya Lodge. “In general, at this time of the year the weather is better, with lots of sun and low winds. More and bigger permit are around too.” In addition to Pesca Maya, there are several other dedicated fishing lodges located around Ascension Bay that cater to visiting anglers, along with five-star beachside resorts farther north, near the Mayan Riviera. Guides pick you up from your doorstep to fish the flats during the day and return you in time for dinner. Paul Sharman

June: Florida Keys

Source: Aaron Adams Aaron Adams — longtime operations director of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and South Florida resident — knows a thing or two about flats-fishing. When asked for his pick of the best month of the year in the Keys, Adams chooses June for several reasons. “In the Keys, June is peak tarpon season,” he says, “but there are also permit in good numbers, and good water temperatures for bones.” Sounds like a great time to target a grand slam. “For targeting tarpon in June, I’d recommend two methods: staking out for traveling fish or poling backcountry spots for ‘laid-up’ fish,” he says. “Each year, the fly that works the best seems to be different. Toads in various color combinations are good, though small is typically best. Take along a variety of flies, and experiment.” Adrian E. Gray

July: Los Roques, Venezuela

Source: Capt. Chris Yrazabal Lying offshore of the Venezuelan mainland, the breath-taking Los Roques archipelago is home to world-famous bonefishing. Particular to the archipelago, big bones feed on baitfish fry, oftentimes taking them right out of the mouths of pelicans along the shoreline. Local guide Chris Yrazabal knows the fishery well. “The best time to fish the island is July,” he says. “We have lots of anglers from mid-January until mid-June, when the fishing is very good, but in July the angling pressure is low. The tides are very stable, with predictable water depths to spot tailing fish most of the day.” One curiosity of Los Roques is that you need to rethink your usual arsenal of bonefish flies. Don’t rule out the Gotchas, Crazy Charlies and other regulars, but make sure to stock up with Gummy Minnows, a staple for all fly-fishermen on the archipelago. Jim Klug

August: Turneffe Atoll, Belize

Source: Craig Hayes When one talks about flats-fishing in Belize, Turneffe Atoll always gets mentioned. Craig Hayes, of Turneffe Flats Lodge, offers thoughts on his prime picks. “Summer — particularly July and August — offers some of our best fishing, and also very nice weather,” he says. “This period is our grand-slam season, with the migratory tarpon around, as well as plenty of bonefish and permit.” Landmark legislation introduced in 2010 by the Belize ­government made bonefish, tarpon and permit catch-and-release species only, guaranteeing a bright future for the area fisheries. Efforts by Craig Hayes and the Turneffe Atoll Trust helped the conservation efforts come to fruition. Jim Klug

September: Tetiaroa, French Polynesia

Source: Mathew McHugh Another new and exciting addition to the global flats-fishing scene is Tetiaroa Atoll, located 33 miles north of Tahiti. Mat McHugh, of U.K.-based Fly Odyssey, is working in partnership with the Tetiaroa Society on two research projects studying the bonefish and giant trevally on the island. He is already impressed with its potential for big bonefish, like some of the other Polynesian Islands offer. During their sampling missions, the average weight of bonefish captured was near 8 pounds, with the largest weighing in at 12 pounds. Having had the benefit of a couple of seasons under his belt, McHugh believes the prime month is September, with May a close second. All anglers visiting the atoll also have the chance to get involved with ongoing tagging studies, the results of which will be used to help create a model for conservation and tourism in the area, thereby safeguarding local stocks. Toby Coe

October: New Orleans, Louisiana

Source: Captain Gregg Arnold For anyone who loves sight-casting to tailing fish, the big bull redfish that turn up in numbers in the Louisiana marshes during late fall create a must-do on the fishing bucket list. One man who knows the fishery better than most is legendary New Orleans-based guide Capt. Gregg Arnold, who shared his thoughts on the prime time to be on the marsh. “I think October, November and December are the top months, with the best days in each month being during the new moon, especially if the tide is falling all day.” Having guided his clients to numerous world records for redfish, follow Arnold’s advice and check those tide charts before booking a trip. In keeping with Louisiana’s Mardi Gras spirit, Capt. Arnold prefers crab and shrimp patterns in gold and purple, chartreuse and purple, and almost anything with purple. Pictured, Brian Evans and Capt. Mike Frenette (right) release an oversize redfish back into south Louisiana marsh waters. Sam Hudson

November: Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Source: Butch Leone Butch Leone has been fishing and guiding the Aitutaki Lagoon for many years, even prior to its explosion as a premier flats- and fly-fishing ­destination for adventurers. “Every month here provides some great bonefish on the line, Leone says. “But if I had to pick, my all-time favorite time to fish would be either November or December. “The weather is usually great, as it’s before summer; days are still warm, and the nights are a bit cooler. The water has warmed up by this time — not that it ever gets cold. Not only is bonefishing good, but the trevally — some good size — seem to bite well.” Similar to Hawaii, Aitutaki has generated numerous rumors of unofficial world-record bonefish catches. One claim told of a 20-pound fish spotted by anglers, while another report claimed the largest bonefish ever landed locally weighed 40 pounds. Now that would be a bonefish worth catching. John Eichelsheim

December: Andros, Bahamas

Source: Andrew Bennett With Andros being such a popular bonefish destination, I asked Andrew Bennett, founder of the Deneki Lodges chain (which includes the well-known Andros South) what he considers the best time for bonefish. His pick is December: “Compared with the later spring months, average highs are just a couple of degrees cooler — not noticeable to those of us coming from colder climates, but the fish can tell the difference,” says Bennett. “During these ‘cooler’ months, we catch most of our biggest bonefish,” he continues. “When the water temperatures are down just a bit, the biggest fish tend to move up onto the flats, and present themselves as singles and doubles — not surrounded by a bunch of smaller fish.” Andros is the largest, most undeveloped island of the Bahamas, housing the highest concentration of blue holes (underwater sinkholes) in the world. Other natural attractions of Andros include the country’s largest national park, called West Side, as well as the world’s third-largest fringing barrier reef. David McCleaf

BONUS: Guanaja, Honduras

Source: Steve Brown Any outfitter with a great piece of permit art as its logo is bound to catch the eye of most flats anglers. I asked Steve Brown, of Fly Fish Guanaja, when he recommends is the best time to visit and fish local Honduran flats. “September and May are my favorite months because of the temperate weather,” he says. “There is not much wind, great permit tides, and great overall fishing, especially on the new and full moons.” This is a great location for targeting big bones and lots of permit. Jim Klug

BONUS: Florida Keys

Source: Linda Denkert Although the Keys already feature as our June pick. I wanted to share the reason behind world-record holder and tournament champion Linda Denkert’s personal choice of August and September. “August and September, the Big Five (permit, tarpon, bonefish, redfish and snook) are around and catchable,” she says. “Many are juveniles that you can catch and release quickly, putting much less stress on the fishery rather than fishing the big spawners. It’s hotter and more humid than any other time of the year and, therefore, tourism is at a low and quiet. These months are for the die-hard angler.” Adrian Gray

BONUS: Seychelles

Source: Keith Rose-Innes The Seychelles is one of those locations where every month of the main fishing season from the middle of October through May can be dynamite. It’s all relative, as Keith Rose-Innes told me, depending on what you primarily wish to target. “For the Seychelles, the best months are definitely November and April,” he says. “The periods, however, differ for species. November and December are best for milkfish and other species, while April and May are prime for giant trevally and other species besides milkfish.” Paul Sharman

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