Situated Near The Mid-Point Of The Florida Keys, This Park offers Multiple Options For Fly Casting.
On The Fly Saltwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs
So far, the day had been disappointing. Wading the shallow flat off the swimming area in Curry Hammock State Park had not yielded any sightings of bonefish. As a result, I’d changed over to a Skipping Bug topwater fly to try to seduce some of the barracuda that were hanging along the mangroves of the boat channel at the east end of the beach area.
Ripping such a fly across the top usually offers a commotion that the ‘cudas’ cannot resist. Often when fishing in shallow water, those fish will push a wake across the surface as they charge the fly, then attack so viciously, you’d think someone had heaved a brick into the water. If they managed to cut the heavy mono leader, most times it was just a matter of wading over, picking up the floating fly and retying. On the other hand, if the fly lodged in the corner of the fish’s mouth, a barracuda in shallow water would jump like a tarpon and make runs like a bonefish.
However, since I was tossing the fly in the deeper water at the edge of the boat channel, I added a wire leader to prevent cut-offs. Standing on a sandbar at the mouth of the channel, I sent a few casts up into the cut and worked the fly back at the edge of the overhanging mangroves. On one of these retrieves, the fly disappeared in a dishpan sized swirl. But, to my surprise, it was not a barracuda, but a tarpon in the 60- to 80-pound range that immediately surged through the surface and tail danced toward open water.
My 9-weight rig with a 20-pound leader was now attached to a beast of a fish headed toward South America, while my feet were anchored on the sand. That was not a prescription for success. After a couple of jumps, the fish and my leader continued offshore, as I reeled in the severed line.
Whether its bonefish, barracuda or tarpon, the variety of fish it is possible to encounter at Curry Hammock, just east of Marathon on Little Crawl and Fat Deer keys, often provide some exciting action. But the fishing is not limited to just the waters facing the Gulf of Mexico on Little Crawl Key. Across US 1 and on the other side of the park that rims Florida Bay, there is yet another surprisingly varied fishery.
This latter spot is on the northern shore of Fat Deer Key and reached by walking the park’s hiking trail. To access it, you park on the Florida Overseas Heritage Trail about a mile west of the main park entrance, Then, head east for a short way on the Heritage Trial to where a sign is at the hiking trail entrance.
A walk of a couple of hundred yards on the fossilized coral pathway leads to a veritable “lake” surrounded by mangroves on the shore side and a hard marl flat to the north. This patch of deep water is obviously manmade, with vertical walls dropping into its depths. The depression could be a borrow pit from railroading days or perhaps a failed marina site. My online searches have failed to reveal its origins so far, though in the past there was a sign here warning of possible debris on the bottom.
Over the years this site has provided battles on the fly with mangrove snapper, barracuda and even small groupers. But it has produced encounters with large sharks and tarpon as well. In one instance, On The Fly South Associate Editor Polly Dean was casting a large chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow into the pool, after watching a sizeable tarpon rolling on the surface. At the end of a retrieve, as the fly came up the side of the pit, she realized it was being followed by the gaping maw of the tarpon headed straight toward her feet. Th shock was enough to send her reeling backwards, jerking the fly out of the water and away from the fish!
Another option in this area also is available to adventurous waders. It is possible to enter the water on the west side of the pit to reach the hard-bottom flat stretching out beyond it. This flat offers good habitat for both bonefish and permit, and holds lots of barracuda. Be aware that the rocky bottom is rather uneven for wading and the darker color of the sea bed makes spotting fish at a distance hard.
The bottom line at Curry Hammock State Park is the facility provides a couple of good options for fly casting to do-it-yourself shore-bound or wade-fishing anglers in the Middle Florida Keys.