Best flies for the Florida Keys

Florida Key Fly Patterns


Fly selection for the Florida Keys varies wildly between who you ask. There a many different flies to accomplish the task at hand, getting tarpon, permit and bonefish to bite. When it comes to Florida Keys fly patterns there is a lot of secrecy that goes on, and rightly so. I don’t even won’t to think about how many hours I have spent hunched over the vise late at night. Nor do I want to calculate the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars I have spent on fly tying materials. So you will have to forgive me if I don’t post the flies I tie for the Florida Keys all over the internet. Just know when you fish with me, the flies I have developed work like a charm.



Florida Keys Fly Patterns For Tarpon


Traditionally flies for tarpon in the keys were tied with splayed saddle hackle on really big hooks. These days no one would dream of throwing those flies at wary oceanside tarpon these days, but at one time they ate them like the last supper. Legendary guides such as Steve Huff and Stu Apte came up with some great flies. I still use some Steve Huff flies although I tie them on smaller hooks. The Florida Keys fly patterns¬† that get the most attention these days are tarpon toads developed by Gary Merriman. It has been called the greatest tarpon fly ever by no other than gold cup tarpon master Andy Mill. I know they work, and I do use them occasionally, but there are better flies for certain situations. I think you shoot yourself in the foot if you try to throw one tarpon fly or variation of it all the time. I tie my original fly patterns based on how I have seen tarpon behave, and try to solve the problem accordingly. My most productive tarpon fly for the Florida Keys looks like something from Mars. I’m telling you right now though it lights them up.



Florida Keys Fly Patterns For Permit


Once upon a time permit were damn near impossible to catch on a fly. Thus began the evolution of Florida Keys permit flies. The first fly to have modest success was Nat Ragland’s puff fly. It was more of a bonefish affair than a permit fly. Then it all changed with a man named Del Brown. He invented the Florida Keys fly pattern for permit called the merkin crab and went to work. If memory serves me right he caught 518 permit on fly. This is astounding since they were almost uncatchable before. The vast majority of permit flies for the Florida Keys are some variation of the merkin crab fly. The pattern I throw the most is not, but it catches a lot of permit. The latest trend has been going towards more shrimp like creations. The advantage of a shrimp type fly for permit is that it can be stripped to grab the fish’s attention. When throwing crab flies you basically try to hit it on the head and hope for the best. Sometimes they eat it sometimes they don’t.¬† As previously mentioned I like to keep my permit flies to myself, and my anglers.



Florida Keys Fly Patterns For Bonefish


Bonefish range all over the globe throughout the tropics. Most bonefish flies are shrimp like creations with some flash. Bonefish spend a lot of time in very shallow water so most bonefish flies have beadchain eyes instead of lead. This helps keep the fly from getting caught in the grass on shallow flats. If the water is slightly deeper they may have small brass eyes. In most places crazy Charlie’s, gotcha’s, christmas island specials etc. are all you need. Florida Keys fly patterns for bonefish on the other hand are a different animal. In most places you fish size 4 or 6 bonefish flies. Here in the keys I hardly ever tie any bonefish fly smaller than a size 2. Why might you ask? It is because we have big ass bonefish! Our big bones want something a little more substantial for their efforts most of the time. Not to mention the fact I don’t want to risk a 10lb bonefish on a size 6 hook. Florida Keys bonefish flies tend to be meatier. The Borski slider is a prime example of the bulkier approach. A lot of the bonefish flies I use are crab patterns that will catch permit as well.






Florida Keys Tarpon Flies

Tarpon Toad – The toad fly has become a staple in the Florida Keys for tarpon. I prefer the original version with a rabbit strip tail. Chartruese, purple,tan and other color schemes work well here. Tie it on a 1/0 Gamakgatsu SL12S hook.



The Gurgler – This is a great topwater fly for the Florida Keys. It works well fly fishing for smaller tarpon in the Keys. Tan and purple work well here but the sky is the limit.


Tarpon Tapas – This is a great fly for oceanside tarpon in the Florida Keys. It’s sparse look doesn’t freak out wary ocean tarpon. Tan and chartreuse, tan and orange, tan and yellow are favorites. The Finnish raccoon tail looks amazing in the water.


Lemon Drop – This is an old school tarpon fly developed by Steve Huff. When tarpon have swam past a thousand chartruese toads this is a good play. Its feather light entry and shrimp-like appearance make it a go fly for Florida Keys tarpon.

Florida Keys fly patterns for tarpon
Gurgler baby tarpon fly
Oceanside tarpon flies for the Florida Keys
Lemon drop tarpon fly for the Keys

Florida Keys Permit Flies

Skok Merkin – The merkin fly was the first real permit fly that reliably caught Florida Keys permit. There are many variations and for the Keys they should be tied on size 1 or 1/0 hooks. White and tan are the go to colors.


Kwan Fly – This fly will catch permit tarpon and bonefish depending on how it is weighted. Its half crab and half shrimp look does the job on Florida Keys permit.



Secret Squirrel Fly – Did you really think I would show you what I throw at the black tailed devil. I’ll swear you to secrecy the day of your fly fishing trip in the Florida Keys!

Merkin crab flies for permit in the Keys
Permit flies for fly fishing Key West

Florida Keys Bonefish Flies


Squimp – A good deep water bonefish fly for the Florida Keys. It’s tan and leggy shrimp look can be tied with micro lead eyes or beadchain. Fly fishing for permit or bonefish this is a go to.

Rootbeer Shrimp – Florida Keys bonefish love this fly. It has great movement underwater and is very simple to tie. You can tie in micro lead eyes and this fly is deadly on redfish.


Borski Slider – A great fly for Florida Keys Bonefish and redfish in the winter. Tan is the most popular color, but chartruese is great for redfish and jacks.

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Florida Keys Bonefish Flies
bonefish fly for the keys
Key west Top Bonefish Flies