When looking up: “Best places to fish in the world,” South Florida is right at the top of the search results. Soaking up the sun, basking in the warm water and swimming freely, a multitude of fish await with opportunities galore to catch them throughout the year. Kevin Hughes of South Florida Uncharted is no stranger to the fish that roam these waters and has the pics and clout to prove it.
As a kayak fishing guide in the South Florida region, Hughes has a wealth of knowledge about the mentioned fish-catching opportunities and uses it to his advantage. Honing in on a variety of techniques and targeting a wide array of fish species provides a difficult process on what to target on any given day. So many questions come to mind for us, so we figured, how better to answer them and give back some knowledge to the community.
KAYAK FISH: Living in South Florida, how do you choose where to fish every day?
KEVIN HUGHES: That is one of the hardest questions I face on a daily basis! I typically rely on what the wind and tides are doing to dictate where I'm going to have the best shots and also have the most fun. If we have a light west wind, it can be a tough call between going offshore or hitting the flats looking for tailing bonefish and rolling tarpon. I'm personally a shallow water sight-fishing junkie, so any chance I get to pole around looking for fish I'll take it. Of course, seasons impact that as well. Spring through fall I'll be out on the flats, late fall through early spring I'll typically hit the mangroves and lagoons. If the wind is right and I'm feeling motivated, I will head offshore. If it's super windy and saltwater just isn't an option, I'll hit the canals looking for peacocks and snakeheads.
With the huge variety of species to catch, do you have a favorite to target?
My favorite seems to change on a monthly basis. If you ask me in the spring and fall, I'll probably tell you tailing bonefish. Snook are probably the single ‘best’ all-around gamefish in Florida, simply because of the variety of tactics used to target them and variety of places they live. However, if I had to pick one thing to do every day, it would be tarpon on the flats. Once tarpon season rolls around in late spring and early summer, there's nothing else I can think about. Tarpon fever is real, and anyone who's posted up on a glass calm flat before sunrise and casted a fly at a school of rolling fish knows it. Watching a silver king turn and inhale a gurgler off the surface at dawn is the ultimate feeling in fishing to me.
You’re both fly and conventional gear user – what factors play into choosing one or the other?
Well I'd be lying if I said I was an expert with the fly rod, but I've been trying hard to focus on it more lately. To me, it comes down to practicality. Simply put, for spooky fish in skinny water, a fly is the ultimate presentation. I got tired of missing shots at snook and bones in clear, shallow water with the spinning rod. No matter how weedless and weightless you make a soft plastic lure or jig, it still creates a much larger commotion when it lands than a small minnow or shrimp fly. From there, I started seeing more and more practical uses for fly fishing. As I mentioned earlier, a gurgler around rolling tarpon at dawn is about as simple and effective as it gets (plus the eat will make your heart stop) and I'll take a chartreuse and white clouser for peacocks versus anything else, fly or spin, hands down. I treat the fly rod as one piece in my arsenal, and it just opens up more options on the water. That said, I'm not one of those guys that will force a fly rod into a situation if it doesn't fit. If I need to cover water or hit deep fish under structure, just to name a few situations, I'll be throwing spinning gear all day.
As a kayak fishing guide, you see the industry in a unique way. Are you finding that it's growing more than ever at the moment?
Absolutely. It seems like in just the past year or so, it's really trending towards a more egalitarian attitude. In the past, there used to be a lot more barriers between a beginner kayak angler and someone you might call a pro, or at least advanced. From price points on gear to simply not having access to the knowledge or experiences available to others, it was tough for some people to get into it. However, recently, a lot of companies have begun realizing this and releasing more reasonably priced options that still qualify as true fishing kayaks. I actually fish for Vibe Kayaks, and one of the reasons I started with them and still fish for them is their attitude about that early on. Essentially, as long as it gets you out on the water and you enjoy it, then who cares what brand it is and how much it costs.
In addition to the market changing, the social media boom has opened up a lot of peoples' eyes as to what you can actually accomplish from a kayak. Back a few years ago, I remember people being blown away by the fact that I was hooking big tarpon from a kayak. Nowadays, it's almost expected and people really don't bat an eye. That's certainly helped with the kayak fishing charter industry, since people can now see the incredible opportunities available. I think it used to be seen as more of a novelty, but that's changed a lot.
What fish are you focused on this time of year and how can potential clients book a trip with you?
Winter can be a challenging time of year to fish anywhere, and South Florida is no exception. The frequent cold fronts and high winds we have this time of year can make a lot of the saltwater fishing difficult, particularly from a kayak. When the winds die down enough to get offshore, the sailfish and king mackerel bite is typically great. Inshore, seatrout fishing is usually exceptional, and we can often find more comfortable areas to target them out of the wind. I'm also particularly fond of fishing the shallow backcountry lagoons and creeks for snook and juvenile tarpon. Big snook move up into those areas this time of year seeking warmer water, making for a really fun sight fishing experience on shallow mud flats at times. Winter is also one of the best times to take advantage of the excellent freshwater fishing we have. Getting out of the wind and targeting peacock bass and a variety of other exotic species in the canal systems makes for a great way to spend a winter day. Peacock bass have a reputation for slowing down in the winter, and that's true to an extent, but I also find it concentrates them in very specific areas and can make for a truly exceptional bite with the right tactics. Anyone who's interested can visit SouthFloridaUncharted.com to book a trip. We offer a variety of trip options and are always willing to work with a client to help meet their trip goals, whatever those might be.
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