Stalk bonefish, hunt tarpon, and outsmart permit in the shallow waters of Key West’s backcountry.

Flats fishing guide pushes skiff with pole while angler casts
The beauty and excitement of a day on the flats is an unforgettable Key West fishing experience.

Flats skiffs, as they are known in the Keys, go into the very shallow and stunningly beautiful backcountry of the Florida Keys. There, they stalk the most challenging and exciting inshore gamefish. Once in the shallows, the flats guide will raise the motor and maneuver the boat from a poling platform with a twenty foot pole. Experience is everything when it comes to flats guides.

Three fish comprise what is known as a “Key West Grandslam”: Tarpon, Bonefish, & Permit. Manage to catch all three in one day and the International Gamefish Association will give you a certificate to commemorate your achievement of a lifetime. Hooking up with any one of them is a day you will never forget.


Anglers show off the permit they caught, and released, on the flats
Sneaking up on a Permit in shallow water is the ultimate challenge in flats fishing

It is amazing the fish you’ll find in the shallow waters of the Keys. Bonefish are Permit spend their days foraging the turtle grass and sand flats for shrimp and crabs hiding on the bottom. Hopefully, these spooky fish will not notice as your guide push-poles the boat into casting position. These fish don’t give it away easily, and if you are able to hook up with one, you will not forget the speed and power of these reel-burning fish.

Tarpon, dubbed the Silver King are a religion unto themselves. Anglers travel from across the country (and world!) to come to Key West for the annual spring Tarpon migration. Actually the largest of the herrings, this toothless giant has adult scales the size of credit cards! The Tarpon’s scientific name is Megalops Atlanticus: huge-eyed Atlantic Ocean fish. They use their incredible vision and years of experience (at 150 pounds the Tarpon is over 50 years old) to hunt crabs, shrimp, mullet, and whatever else gets in it’s way. When hooked, the fish ferociously leaps from the water, rattling it’s head and gill plates, trying to dislodge the hook. Many succeed. The Florida record is 263 pounds.