ENGLISH couple Rodney and Helen Goodship have been travelling to the Florida Keys for many years during the UK winter months to enjoy its sunshine and, of course, its great fishing. Rodney and Helen now run a company aimed at allowing UK angler to enjoy the amazing and varied boats and flats fishing. They’ve called the firm ‘Fish the Dream’, and this is not your usual ‘book a charter with an experienced skipper’ holiday. Rodney has purchased an expensive 22ft Pro Sports sportfishing catamaran. The boat is the party’s for the duration of the stay but, after an initial tour of the boat on your first trip, he hands the keys to you so that you may take it out yourself, any time you wish!
The package is aimed at a maximum of four people and includes airport pick-up, transport to the couple’s villa accommodation, B&B for the length of your stay and obviously full and sole use of the boat 24/7. What makes this more interesting is that it all costs only £85p per day. So, all you have to do is book your flights and the rest of your stay is taken care of. You should be able to get a return trip to Miami for around £380 per person if not less, and this means that a seven-day holiday including food, a roof over your head and your own boat will cost less than £750 each.
This package is aimed at groups of four where at least one person has reasonable boat
Fishing close to the Keys’ bridges can provide shark sport out of the top drawer.
knowledge and handling skills. For those this arrangement appeals to but are still apprehensive or worried about the prospect of driving an unfamiliar boat in unfamiliar waters, don’t be. The boat is brand new and has every mod con and safety aid known to mankind, including colour chart plotter, fishfinder, VHF, life jackets, flares and everything else that’s needed. The boat is simple and friendly to handle and although the grounds around the Keys are very shallow they are very easy and safe to navigate. For those of you having no experience at sea, Rodney will skipper the craft or, if you like, he’ll arrange a local guide.
The Florida Keys offers different styles of fishing which should, after a day or two, become easy for every angler no matter how experienced.
It’s a chain of tropical islands, joined by many bridges, which extend for roughly 100 miles to the southwest of the southern most tip of Florida. To the north and west of these islands is an area called ‘the backcountry’. The backcountry covers hundreds of square miles, is very shallow and is made up of sand, coral reef and mangroves. To the east and south of the islands is the Atlantic Ocean. Again, the ground here starts shallow and is made up of coral and sand, but just a few miles offshore you will find deeper reefs and eventually the bluewater drop off.
The so-called bonnet head.
Just five minutes from the boat’s berth at the bottom of Rodney’s garden, you’re straight into the backcountry. This is shallow but very easy to navigate using paper charts and, of course, the boat’s chart plotter. The fishing is as simple as it gets. Find a mark, this may be a small gully, depression or sand bar. You can purchase a chart with all mark information from every tackle shop. Stop the boat, chuck the anchor, lower the rubby-dubby block over the side and watch as the fish turn up! The first to arrive are baitfish, including pinfish and small herring. Feather some bait and wait for the predators to home in… and boy they sure do! It seems that in the backcountry you could chuck a rubby-dubby block anywhere and fish will appear within seconds. Once bait is caught, target species include tarpon, shark, ray, snapper, jack, ’cuda, bonefish and many others. Fishing is simple and even a beginner can have a wild day here. This is about as easy as it gets for any skipper and angler and it is light-tackle territory.
The bridges joining all the islands provide a natural border between the backcountry and the Atlantic and also one of the best man-made fishing structures in the world. Seven-MileBridge, one of the most famous, is about 15 minutes by boat from the villa and moorings. Fishing around the bridge is as simple as the backcountry, although the boat position and state of tide are more important. One side of the bridge will fish on the flood tide while the other fished on the ebb. Again, there’s a lot of shallow ground but with some deeper depressions and gullies. Positioning the boat to fish these areas of deeper water definitely provides the best results! Target species are the same as the backcountry and fishing rubby-dubby at
Great fishing – breathtaking scenery.
anchor is a definite way of seeing results. The bridges still offer some amazing light-tackle sport, but be prepared! They do throw up some huge tarpon and they’re riddled with big bull and hammerhead sharks.
The offshore, Atlantic side of the bridges is more suited to the experienced angler and boat handler. Head east or south and the depth starts to drop away quickly to those we are more familiar with in the UK. About four miles out you will find a reef and wrecks that lie in 40 to 60 feet of water. Target species include big snapper, grouper, amberjack and many more. Just a few miles further from the reefs and wrecks is the bluewater drop-off. This is trolling ground where you will find all your game species, including marlin, sailfish, tuna and some massive sharks capable of eating your prize
There are few fish in the world with the pound for pound fighting power of the bone fish.
catch as a mere snack. The offshore fishing is probably the hardest and involves the most science, but for any astute boat handler/angler they will be within easy reach once you’ve spent a couple of days getting to know the area.
Rodney will also guide you on the flats, which offer and altogether different adventure.
The thing about the Florida flats is that you never know what is going to turn up. More to the point, though, unlike most bonefish destinations in the world, the ones here tend to be on the large side, with double-figure fish commonplace.
Bonefish have been caught to 13lb in the area.
For this reason it’s advisable to use a sensible, yet sporty, outfit.
A decent fixed spool spinning reel is you main concern, something like a Shimano Stradic ST6000FH is ideal. The important factors are line capacity and a smooth drag. This is no place for cheap reels, or even expensive ones with ‘jumpy’ drag systems. If you hook a decent bone on a naff reel it will destroy you – fact!
Whatever reel you go for needs to hold at least 300 yards of 10lb mono, and believe me there is a real possibility that you could get spooled with that! Even a 5lb bone will strip a good 100 yards on its initial run, no matter how close to the limit you push your drag. With acceleration of 0 to 30mph in a little under two seconds, you’ve got two choices when you hook up – allow it to run or let it bust you up.
Rod choice can be more flexible, but it’s advisable to go for something with a bit of ‘poke’. A 10ft spinning rod rated up to 60g is ideal. You’ll need the backbone for casting out, and of course to work with the drag on your reel to help slow and tire a speeding bonefish.
While on the subject of tackle, there’s little else you need that’s essential, apart from some strong, chemically sharpened hooks in sizes 4, 2, 1 and 1/0, plus the best-quality fluorocarbon hooklength you can lay your hands on in 10, 12 and 14lb breaking strains.
There’s only one bait to use on the Florida flats for bonefish, and that’s the widely available live shrimp – we call them prawns in the UK. Pop into any tackle or bait shop and they’ll have a series of water tanks out the back full of the blighters. You can easily pick up enough live shrimps to keep you going for a hectic morning session for around 10 bucks.
You’ll need a good pair of wading boots (these can be purchased in any clothing store, and you can buy a pair of booties for about $8). The reason for the footwear? There are loads of stingrays and other spiny creatures that can
The key bait for the bonefish is a live prawn and they are readily available.
do some real damage to your feet if you accidentally step on them. DON’T go wading barefoot!
A good hat, polarising sunglasses, high-factor sunscreens/blocks and plenty of bottled drinking water are also essential. It’s all too easy to get carried away with what is happening around you while the sun gently roasts your skin and dehydrates you. Make a point of drinking water and applying sunscreen on the hour, every hour – even if you don’t think you need to.