What do you really need in your Florida Keys fishing tackle box?
For most anglers visiting the Keys for their first fishing vacation the key is, less is more. The water in the keys is pretty clear most of the time so heavy leaders, big hooks and big anything else is normally not the ticket. So let us start to pack a Florida Keys basic tackle box.
A good range of sizes is size 8 (bait hooks) to size 5/0. These are in J-hook sizes, for circle hooks you have to add to the size. You really don’t need each size in the series skip two or three sizes. A good basic box would have sizes: 8, 4, 2, 2/0, 5/0. Having a few more is fine these are basic sizes that will be useful. I prefer silver or gold colored hooks but it does not make that much difference.
It is purely based on preference as I am a sucker for anything that is imbibed with silver and gold but what makes this unique is that I am fond of fishing as well so have a nice collection of hooks and the Best crappie rods as I frequent the lake down the countryside for a good catch.
Have a fair variety starting with 1/8 ounce and ranging to ¾ ounce. The buck tail jigs will last much longer with the variety of fish we have down here. Plain jigs tipped with shrimp, crab or cut bait work just fine though. Color wise, the chartreuse, yellow and white are solid performers. The red/white in the larger sizes with buck tail or Mylar skirts work great for the school dolphin. If you want to bring grubs heads and soft bait bring them on, but they are not required.
You do not have to get too crazy here. Size 7 and size 5 swivels are fine for most applications. Make sure they are black! Toothy fish hit flashy stuff, so save the flash for the hook. Barrel swivels are all your really need but a few locking snap swivels are not a bad thing to have. Make sure they are locking snap swivels. There are other swivel styles that will work. Remember this is a basic box. Just avoid fresh water style swivels. As before you can add more sizes, these are just the most common you will use.
Ten or 12-pound fluorocarbon and fifty pound mono or fluoro are the biggies. Eighty or one hundred pound is great for deep dropping or if you are shark fishing. If you plan on using one of those fancy lines that is not clear, add twenty and thirty pound to that list.
If you can learn to tie a haywire twist, size 3, size 5 and size 7 will cover everything. If you are buying pre-made leaders it is a little more complicated. Have short (6″ plus or minus) light wire leaders rated for 20 to 30 pounds, medium length and strength 12 to 16 inch leaders rated for 50 pounds approximately and a few sixty plus pound 3 foot or longer leaders for tackling sharks if that is your thing.
Four to six inch lipped floaters are good performers. Brand does not matter that much, but colors are important. Natural colors like black back with silver belly or green/blue with silver are favorites. Still the goofy old white with red head works fantastic. Silver spoons with a little less action will catch fish anywhere. Clark and Drone spoons are popular and productive for casting and trolling. If cast and retrieve is your thing, add a few smaller and larger sizes but make sure the hooks are up to the task 4X strength is recommended.
Less is still more. Four to six inch bullet head or plastic head lures for trolling offshore hook the most fish. Having a few nine to twelve inch lures for Wahoo or big critters is not a bad idea. Remember thought that big lures are supposed to mean big fish, but elephants eat peanuts. If you plan on trolling deep diving stretch thirty plugs, the opposite is the case. Go big! Colors recommended for the deep divers are the same as the casting lures. For the offshore lures, blue and silver is hard to beat, followed by pink /white, black/purple and black /pearl. Add as many colors and sizes as you like, but have those in your box.
If you are flying in for get the weights. For drivers, Split shot and egg sinkers are the ticket. For get the pyramid and bank sinkers unless you plan to just fish from the shore or bridges. Sizes range from BB to size 7 for the split shot, ¼ ounce to 4 ounce for the egg sinkers. Split the weight range up pretty well. You can always double a weight size if needed. If plan on deep dropping you should know to go real heavy like sash weights. For most of the mid-depth fishing the bait determines the weight. If you plan on fishing big live baits, then plan on packing a few 20-ounce egg sinkers.
Clousers in blue/white, yellow, coffee colors and chartreuse are hot. Shrimp and crab patterns in natural colors are prime time for permit and bones. The epoxy crab pattern in neutral buoyancy can be the ticket! Big streamers at six inches are hot for offshore dolphin and inshore ‘cudas and tarpon. Poppers are a hoot; so don’t forget a few 3 to 6 inch poppers. Smaller (1 to 2 inch) sinking flies work for mangroves and the jacks if you just want to have some fun. Most people don’t mess with dry flies much.
The reason for this article is a simple story. A few years ago I guided a fly fisherman on an offshore dolphin trip. I told him to bring the biggest flies he had with him. When we found the fish I told him to break out the fly rod and have some fun. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a fly kit with twenty flies. The kit was smaller that a cigarette package. Those tiny flies didn’t cut it so I made him a quick fly with a silver 2/0 hook and a large orange bead. He caught six or eight dolphin in the five-pound range with the bead fly. With a streamer the fish could actually see, he would have done better.