Bring Your Own BoatMost places you will stay on the keys have their own private boat ramp or lift and their own private docks. Rooms come with access to both, so bringing your own boat may be the way to go. Just remember – this is saltwater. It corrodes and gets into every crack and crevice, and if you are not careful, it will eat your boat alive. Oh sure, it will take several months fro signs of saltwater damage, but if you take a boat designed and built for freshwater into saltwater, that damage will certainly occur.
If you absolutely must take you lake boat to the keys, do yourself a favor. Make sure you wash it every time it comes out the water. Soap and a scrub brush will break the salt layer and prevent most of the future problems. At the very least, hose the boat and trailer down with freshwater, and give the engine a good spraying of CRC, WD40, or some other corrosion preventative.
Fishing on Your OwnSo much water and so many places to fish – what’s a guy to do? The chances are very good that your first fishing foray on the keys will be a bad one in terms of fish caught. Like any other location, the keys have to be learned – fish follow certain patterns and move in certain areas. If you don’t know those patterns you will be out of luck.
The cheapest and easiest way to be successful is to go to the local tackles/bait shop where you are staying. Ask them where to fish and what bait you can use. They want your repeat business, so most of them will gladly try to put you on some fish. They make most of their money on repeat business. Granted, you will sometimes find someone who just wants to sell you something and make a quick buck, but fro the most part, they are good about helping people new to the area.
The best way, although no the cheapest, is to hire a guide for a day. Many people who drag their own rig to the keys for the first time do just that. They learn a number of places to fish – guides will fish numerous spots in a given day. Make sure you tell the guide that you brought your own boat and you want to learn where to fish. Most guides are happy to oblige and will give you several places where you have a reasonable chance for success.
Let me caution you. If you do hire a guide and don’t tell him you are looking for places to take your own boat, you may be in for a surprise. If you show up the next day on one of the spots he fished with you, he will probably not be a happy camper. So – give these guys a break. This is what they do for a living, and having multiple boats on their “secret” spots will drive their business into the ground.
SafetyIf you fish offshore, the Gulfstream waters can be ugly in the wrong weather conditions. Water depths drop to over 600 feet in sight of land, and water that deep can generate some awfully big seas. You also need to know that a boat that is dead in the water in the stream will not drift back into the shore of the islands. The stream travels north and east at 4 to 6 knots. Unless you have a southeast or east wind, you are quickly heading along with the stream. Even if you have no engine problems, a day of trolling the stream will put you much farther north than you think. You have to compensate for that north movement. You may think you have enough fuel to make it back to the dock, only to fond out that you are twenty miles north of where you came out.
The solution is to take a GPS. Whether hand held or mounted, a GPS can tell you where you are and where the dock is. Mark the channel entrance as you leave so you can plug it back in to head back. Check occasionally to see how far north you are moving and make adjustments accordingly.
If you plan to fish the flats and shallows inshore, you must have a chart. This is not a recommendation – it is a requirement for safety. In the middle of Florida Bay, all islands look alike to some people and heading off in the wrong direction will put you high and dry on a low tide. Channels, cuts, deep water, shallow water - just trust the voice of experience. A GPS with a tracking feature is a great help here as well.