Maine native Kevin McKay, a lifelong fisherman, lives on the banks of the Penobscot River north of Bangor. He is a Master Maine Guide who since 2002 has operated Maine Fishing Adventures, where he strives to treat anglers to fun and productive fly fishing and spin casting outings in beautiful surroundings. McKay also runs Maineflyfish.com, which features fishing reports, informative articles, debate on key topics and instructional tools.
Opening day of fishing in Maine is a huge tradition for many. I used to get up at 1 a.m. and drive three hours to catch huge brook trout.
But as time has gone on, and more people are getting into fishing, those spots are getting more and more crowded, so I started looking for other options.
Florida seemed to be a great choice with its warm and sunny environment. I would be able to enjoy my first warm weather fishing of the season.
Caption: Left to right, Kevin McKay takes some casts near a bridge while doing some spring fishing recently in Florida. Credit: Courtesy of Stacy Chiasson. Kevin McKay fishing.
Luckily, I have a couple of guide friends in Florida and I am able to fish with them when down there. Rich operates out of Hudson and Dino is in Jupiter. While it is always fun fishing with them both, my favorite way to fish in Florida is DIY.
It’s more difficult without a boat, and with limited rods, but I love the challenge. Throughout the years, I’ve fished some great DIY spots and caught a few saltwater beauties. I’ve depended on friends and locals for much of my intel and many times I’ve gone fishless.
Nonetheless, I enjoy the adventure of exploring and seeking out different fish species. I’ve rented boats, visited resorts and fished in residential neighborhoods in search of fish.
My son Jax and I once caught two tarpon from shore based on a tip from a friend. Surprisingly enough, Jax’s tarpon made one jump and instantly came to hand but when I picked it up, it was bitten in half.
He took a picture with it and threw it back into the water only feet from us and the water exploded. The shark finished what it had started only minutes before.
On another April trip with my girlfriend Stac, we drove through neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale searching for pond access. We would pull up to a pond, look for an open spot near the water, then have Stac jump out of the car and check for fish.
With a thumbs up I would park the car, grab the rods and we would fish for peacock bass. She was able to catch her first peacock that trip but we have since found more ideal spots with more easily accessible fishing in the ponds or canals.
Our most recent trip to the Keys was not without adventure. We shipped four rods to our motel, two with floating line and two with sinking lines suited for both tarpon and peacocks. A friend told us about a new tarpon spot.
Caption: Left to right, Stacy Chiasson shows off a small peacock bass she caught in Florida. Credit: Courtesy of Kevin McKay. Jax McKay shows off what’s left of a tarpon that he caught while fishing in Florida. The fish was simultaneously killed by a shark, which devoured the remnants when it was thrown back into the water. Credit: Courtesy of Kevin McKay.
This was from a bridge and, from what I understand, tarpon will stage up on an outgoing tide, feeding on the baitfish as they follow the tide out. We were up at 5 a.m. and at the bridge by 5:30 but we weren’t the only early risers.
There was another car already parked at the bridge. The doors were wide open and dance music could be heard for miles. The car’s owner was sitting on the rocks. Grabbing our rods we headed toward him, only to be met with a blast of words spoken in Spanish. The only one I understood was “light”.
I quickly snapped off my headlamp and asked if we could fish beside him and after an immediate nod, we slid in. We could see proposing fish but they were just out of reach. After more than an hour, we decided to change spots.
We fared better with peacock bass a day later. Most peacocks are found in Brazil and other tropical locations. Select places in southern Florida hold these colorful bass species and I’ve been told our spot is the southernmost location in Florida to fish for them.
After a short drive down a dirt road to a rough boat launch, we found a canal guarded by chain link fencing and garbage cans that are always overflowing. We walked through the open gate and across the dam only to find another fence.
This meant going around the fencing in order to fish the side we wanted, and over open water. Keep in mind we have seen alligators here often. We did this anxiously, and quickly.
As we’re walking along the shore, one eye is looking for snakes and alligators and the other for fish. I quickly spot a cruising peacock, make a short cast and catch a small one. Shortly after, Stac catches one.
After an hour-long search we finally see a bigger fish. Using the bow and arrow cast, I was able to catch the larger fish. The beauty of these fish always amazes me and is a reminder why I always target them while in the Keys.
Dock fishing is a fun part of the trip each year and this year was no exception. I was able to catch a few other species throughout the week, throwing out a line whenever and wherever possible. Barracuda, jack, snapper and moonfish all made my list.
One of the most memorable stops was a restaurant in Duck Key where we spotted an array of ocean creatures from their docks. We saw tarpon, barracuda, needle fish, jack, parrot fish, nurse sharks and many more we don’t know the names of. We also spotted a horseshoe crab and a green moray eel.
Florida never disappoints and always satisfies an addicted fisherman’s need to wet a line in the spring. If you find yourself in need of a new opening day spot, maybe Florida is it.
The sun, sand and never ending source of colorful, exciting fish are all a welcome reprieve from the long, cold Maine winters. Wherever you decide to spend your opening day, I hope it’s with a fly rod in your hand and an excitement in your chest.