UPCOMING EVENT: Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Ouachita

Dry Tortugas

Wahoo aren’t the only fish that will nail a high-speed surface rig. Other species, such as this dolphin, are a common, and welcome, bycatch.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January-February 2006 issue of FLW Outdoors Magazine.

February isn't what some saltwater anglers across the country would call the "hot" month when it comes to fishing. But in one area in the Straits of Florida, October to April is the prime time to come down and boat a bountiful cornucopia of saltwater species. Named the Dry Tortugas by Ponce De Leon for its lack of fresh water and, at the time, abundance of sea turtles, this chain of islands owned by the United States, 70 miles west of Key West, Fla., offers some of the most beautiful, historic and heart-pounding angling action of any saltwater venue during winter and early spring.

Most anglers who vacation in South Florida for a bit of offshore fishing in the Tortugas will likely find themselves in Key West. In fact, Earnest Hemmingway fancied Key West so much that after one visit, he packed up and moved there permanently. At one point, Key West was said to be the wealthiest city in the nation, and majestic homes lining the shores of the island evidence that speculation.

Fans of Hemmingway can patron the same establishment he frequented with his good friend "Sloppy Joe" at Captain Tony's Saloon. While there is another good destination actually called Sloppy Joe's, it is believed that Captain Tony's was the original pub where Joe and Hemmingway shared stories, many of which were said to lead to some of Hemmingway's books.

If you're not into the pub scene, then you should step over to Mallory Square in the early evening hours to witness some of the most breathtaking sunsets while listening to performers, live music and shopping in the open-air markets. It's truly a unique experience, highly regarded by travelers and locals alike.

But the number-one point of interest around Key West is the Dry Tortugas. Dry Tortugas National Park offers great historical tours as well as camping and beach activities on the sands bordering some of the clearest water you've ever seen. It's common to see fish swimming around on the bottom in 50 feet of water. The national park is the only at-sea national park in the country and home to Fort Jefferson, an island penal colony where Dr. Samuel Mudd was sentenced and served his time alone for many years. He was convicted of aiding and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln when he repaired Booth's broken leg, which broke on the jump from the famed balcony shooting.

And if historic tours and camping don't tickle your fancy then the surreal experience of scuba diving in Kingfish are common in Dry Tortugas' clear waters.the Dry Tortugas will. Several outfitters can provide you with the necessary equipment. The water is clear and the numerous species of fish, turtles and other sea life will cause your wandering mind to receive a "connection interrupted" with reality.

The fishing in the Dry Tortugas is more of the same. Five records have come from these islands, including the all-tackle black grouper record of 113 pounds, 6 ounces. It's not uncommon to run into large schools of dolphin, along with wahoo, kingfish, cobia, jack, grouper, snapper, barracudas and a host of other species that will fall for lightweight fly offerings or heavy-duty live-bait rigs. Several outfitters run charters out of Key West. For your first foray into the unknown, this might be your best bet.

For the adventurous soul who wants to go it on his or her own, be prepared for an hour or more one-way boat ride from Key West to the National Park. There is no gas, food or other amenities on the islands, so take what you need to get there and back. Take a variety of baits and rigs with you, as you never know what you're liable to run into out there. For most anglers, the thrill of a topwater bite in the Dry Tortugas is unmatched. Anglers commonly hook 200-plus-pound jewfish on fly rods. Think that's crazy? Then seeing a 30-pound grouper shoot off the corral reef bottom in 12 feet of water and cartwheel end over end, slapping himself silly with the topwater bait that's hooked in the side of his mouth, will really send your blood pumper into jumbled rhythms.

Topwater action reaches the summit of fishing excitement here. Jolting concussions interrupt melodic cadences of whispering gallops across the surface. These metaphors multiply in the confines of greenish-blue backdrops and shadows of darting predators when you talk about topwater fishing in the Dry Tortugas. It's as close to "shooting fish in a barrel" as the average angler will ever come.

The history of Fort Jefferson
After the War of 1812, a set of forts stretching from Maine to Texas was planned to protect the United States from foreign attacks. Fort Jefferson was to be the grandest of all the forts. In 1845, the islands of the Dry Tortugas became a military reservation, so the construction of the fort could begin. The fort walls were not complete until 1862, and it was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson.

Construction on the fort dragged on for more than 30 years and construction ended before completion. Weather, funding, and difficulties in transporting supplies and laborers to such a remote location made the endeavor too much to bear. Then came the invention of the rifled cannon during the Civil War that exposed vulnerabilities in the walls, making the fort obsolete.

During the Civil War, the fort was used as a prison for deserters and other criminals. In 1874, the army gave up on the fort because of hurricanes and plagues of yellow fever. It wasn't until 1898 that the Navy reopened the fort to use it during the Spanish-American War. The fort was again used during World War I.

The islands were designated a bird reserve and transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1908. President Franklin Roosevelt selected it as the Fort Jefferson National Monument on Jan. 4, 1935 - the first marine area to receive that designation. The monument was upgraded to national park status in a bill signed by President George Bush in 1992.

Tags: jason-sealock  destinations 


An Ill Wind at Okeechobee?

The wind can be a bass fisherman’s best friend or worst enemy. On its best behavior, it creates a temporary current, positions baitfish and helps an angler move around more stealthily in shallow water. READ MORE »


Aquatic Plant ID

Val Osinski, the owner of Gambler Lures and winner of the 2015 Costa FLW Series event on the lake, knows as much about the Big O as anyone and is an expert on finding and targeting bass in its various grasses. When we had the opportunity to ride along with him for a tour of the lake and to learn to identify some of the grasses, it was a no-brainer to accept. READ MORE »


Poche Services Set

Funeral services for Dylan Poche, the 18-year-old Bass Fishing League angler who was stabbed to death Saturday night, are scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. at Freedom Life Church in Natchitoches, La. Visitation will take place at Freedom Life beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday. READ MORE »


Time to Shine for Setzer

With three years on Tour and a Co-angler of the Year (COY) award under his belt, Braxton Setzer believes now is his time to start casting from the front. READ MORE »





Glenn Browne’s Timeout is Over

By his own admission, Glenn Browne isn’t the most organized guy. After the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division opener on Lake Okeechobee, he spent hours returning stuff to its proper place and tossing out the usual flotsam and jetsam that accumulates in a bass boat during a tournament. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 109 - Mike Surman



John Cox Gives Himself a Makeover

Last fall there was a rumor going around that John Cox was entering the electronics age and souping up his boat with sonar gear. Just to clear the air, the Florida pro reports that though he did flirt with the notion of incorporating an offshore strategy centered on depth finders into his act, he eventually abandoned the idea. READ MORE »


Austin Felix is Ready for the Big Time

Back in the spring of 2014, Austin Felix and his University of Minnesota teammate Chris Burgan were on the top of the FLW College Fishing world. With a win in the National Championship on Lake Keowee, Felix was headed to the Forrest Wood Cup as a pro. READ MORE »


FLW Canada Sets Tournament Sites, Dates

FLW Canada, one of four partners in FLW’s International Division of the Costa FLW Series, recently released its 2016 tournament schedule. The season includes three two-day regular-season qualifying events and a three-day championship. Anglers fish as two-person teams. READ MORE »


Jigging Spoons for Winter Bass

Of course, the application of the spoon hinges on finding bass in the first place, which is the biggest challenge. Walmart FLW Tour pros Jason Johnson and Clark Reehm are experts at finding winter bass in their respective regions of the country and offer FLW readers some advice on where to look and how to get them to bite the spoon. READ MORE »


How Bryan Thrift Got to be so Good

My No. 1 focus out here is to support my family and make a living. Whatever I have to do to make that happen, I’m going to make a valiant effort. READ MORE »


High School Fishing Makes the Grade

Jacob Smith and Daniel Clark are typical teenagers, at least in everything except bass fishing. In that, they are above average, as the two juniors from Travelers Rest High School in South Carolina proved in the TBF/FLW High School Fishing Florida Open held Jan. 17 on Lake Okeechobee. READ MORE »


FLW Mexico at the Starting Gate

Our excitement is so great that we wanted to share this important news with all of you. Believe me, fishermen in Mexico are talking it up as if it were dock talk surrounding the Forrest Wood Cup. What really matters at the end of the line is knowing that FLW is showing its true devotion to promoting bass fishing and making it a truly international sport. READ MORE »


Making the Case for Haynes as AOY

As many have noted, the Walmart FLW Tour schedule for this season looks a lot like it did in 2014. Back then, in his sophomore year on Tour, Randy Haynes had one of the strangest seasons you’ll ever see. He finished 104th at Okeechobee, 149th at Sam Rayburn (ouch) and cranked out top-30 finishes everywhere else. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 108 - Jason Lambert



BFL Choo Choo Division Postponed

The FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) Choo Choo Division tournament on Lake Guntersville originally scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 23 has been postponed due to impending inclement weather. READ MORE »


TIGERODZ Aligns With Auburn Team

Custom fishing rod manufacturer TIGERODZ of Scottsboro, Ala., has signed an agreement to become the official rod brand for the Auburn University Bass Sports Club. Scott Dobbins, president of TIGERODZ, is an Auburn alum, and he says the pairing involved a natural progression of involvement. READ MORE »


Becoming Aware of Your Angler Strengths

The ongoing sentiment among fishermen is that versatility is the key to becoming a successful professional angler. While I’m certain that statement holds some weight, I think there is an alternate perspective that is worth entertaining. READ MORE »


Pundits Picks for AOY

Winning the Angler of the Year title is a tremendous feat. It can solidify a budding career or affirm a veteran’s status among the best. It also comes with a hefty reward – $100,000 and early entry into the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup. READ MORE »