Lay of the Land
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon sailed south from St. Augustine and found a “bright nameless great bay.” There are a number of stories how Biscayne Bay, a 35 mile long and up to 8-mile wide lagoon was named, but one thing for sure is that it has always attracted explorers and adventurers. Divided into three regions, North, Central and South Biscayne Bay, The North Bay separates Miami Beach Barrier Island from Miami and the mainland. The largest part of the bay is the central region, buffered from the Atlantic by the Safety Valve, a series of shallow flats broken up by tidal flow channels. The largest estuary on the coast of Southeast Florida, it connects to the Everglades and Florida Bay, encompassing a marine ecosystem of approximately 428 square miles. It is home to the 173,000 acre Biscayne Bay National Park in the central region, and to the Port of Miami, one of the largest passenger and commercial ports of call in the world. Supporting industries directly related to bay activities, create over 130,000 jobs each year in hospitality, construction, commercial and sport fishing. Residents and visitors participate in recreational pursuits like sailing, boating, snorkeling and diving. Close to Miami, there is an eclectic feel to the area, offering everything you might want in a city; the Arts, great shopping and dining in addition to spectacular outdoor pursuits. Good highways, cell and Internet service, banking, ATM’s, medical services and all the consumer goods you want are easy to find in this area.
Where to Fish
Let’s call it the way it is, Biscayne Bay is best fished from a boat and better yet with an experienced guide that knows the area well. Of all the places I have fished on my own, Biscayne Bay is one of the toughest. The reasons are twofold, access to quality wading flats is poor and second, they are the smartest fish you are ever going to face. On the bright side, they are there, they can be caught and chances are good that the fish you land will be the largest of your life. To increase your chances and dramatically expand the fishing range, the DIY fishermen is better off to use a kayak, canoe or SUP. If you don’t live in the area, it means renting from one of the many vendors available. With the exception of a few locations on Key Biscayne, the self-guided fishing areas are concentrated on the western shore of Biscayne Bay.
Rickenbacker Causeway – on the way out to Key Biscayne, there is some fishing on either side of the causeway. Kayaks are available to rent from vendors adjacent to the causeway.
Key Biscayne – there is a wadeable flat located on the northeast corner of Key Biscayne that can be good at times. It’s best to fish here early in the morning or late in the day.
Crandon Park- located on Key Biscayne this is an ideal place to launch your canoe or kayak to fish the flats to the north. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at the park. This area gets busy so fish early and late on a low tide.
Matheson Hammock to Turkey Point
The twenty-mile stretch of Biscayne Bay from Matheson Hammock to Turkey Point is by far the best section for the self-guided angler to concentrate on. Most of the guides fish the eastern shore of Biscayne Bay so you won’t see many anglers and this area holds fish. It is best fished from a canoe, kayak or SUP with only a few access points where you can park the car and enter the water to wade. But there are a surprising number of large bonefish in this stretch of water and may be the best shot at catching a fish on your own.
Matheson Hammock – this county park, located off Old Cutler Road, has nice beaches, picnic areas and a large marina. There is a small flat directly north that can easily be waded, but the majority of fishing is south from the marina. There are canoe and kayak rentals at the park, which expands the size of the area available to fish.
Chapman Park – reached off Deering Bay Drive, fishing is productive both north and south. The park is an excellent launching point for a canoe or kayak and from here you can paddle north to Matheson Hammock or south to Deering Estates.
Deering Estates at Cutler – this 444 acre county park provides excellent access to the west shore of Biscayne Bay. Off the parking lot is a nice trail to the People’s Dock to launch a kayak or canoe. It is situated on a beautiful part of Biscayne Bay with good fishing if paddling either north to Chapman Park or south to Black Point Park.
Black Point Park & Marina – located off SW 87th Ave. this beautiful park is the ideal launching point to fish the undeveloped shoreline north to Deering Estates. Paddle 2.5 miles north along the shoreline, to a stretch of flats that can be waded at low tide. If the wind is coming from the north you will find more protection launching in the canal south of the marina and paddling toward Homestead. To reach the canal, follow the road around the marina and park your car beside the canal. Launch your canoe or kayak and paddle into Biscayne Bay. It is one continuous flat south to Bayfront Park. Along this stretch, the shoreline is undeveloped and provides ample solitude considering the closeness to Miami.
Homestead Bayfront Park – located in Homestead, this county park is located on the southern end of Biscayne Bay and is the gateway to the Florida Keys. This is an excellent put-in for access south to Turkey Point and the Arsenicker Keys or north to Black Point Park.
Arsenicker Keys – this is a long paddle (approximately five miles) but south of Bayfront Park are the Arsenicker Keys, one of the most productive areas in Biscayne Bay.
Elliott Key – for a little more adventure, why not camp for a few days on Elliott Key at the designated campground and fish the surrounding flats. The bottom tends to be a little soft so it is best to fish from either a standup kayak or SUP. To save the seven mile paddle, find a friend with a boat or have the concessioner from Biscayne Bay National Park in Homestead run you out by boat. If you camp later in the year than March, bring your bug spray.
Biscayne Bay is not a destination I would plan a pure DIY fishing trip around, but it’s a wonderful location to fish one day with a guide and a couple days on your own. So if your wife says she wants to go to Miami or South Beach, book it.
For those days without a guide, plan to hit one of the access points mentioned above, planning to fish the outgoing tide, through the low tide and half of the incoming tide. There are some flats that are easily waded, such as Key Biscayne and Matheson Hammock, but most are best fished from a standup kayak or SUP, which can be rented from a number of vendors.
These are big, smart fish, averaging close to seven pounds. Catching a Biscayne Bay bone on your own is a trophy worth pursuing.
They have seen a lot of flies so you may have to shake it up a little. I like larger flies, usually size #2 – #4 including, Greg’s Flats Fly, Cordell Baum’s Electric Dread, Bonefish Toad Fly, Borski Slider, EP Crab, Bonefish Bunny and Spawning Shrimp. The flies should be heavy as the water is typically 2-3 feet deep and carry flies with weed guards.
Fishing can be very good during the winter months and into the spring, even though Florida is subject to cold fronts moving through. You need a Florida State fishing license and if you fish in the evening, bring your bug spray.
In Miami, Biscayne Bay, and Coconut Grove kayak, canoe and SUP rentals abound. Consider looking at one of the National Parks, whose vendors do a great job providing equipment rentals or bring your own. Many companies will deliver, and/or pick up the equipment you rent from them.
Biscayne National Park www.biscayneunderwater.com
Stand Up Paddle Board Center www.standuppaddlekeybiscayne.com
Matheson Hammock Kayak Rentals: www.miamidade.gov/ecoadventures/rentals-matheson_hammock.asp
Crandon Park Kayak Rental: www.miamidade.gov/Parks/Parks/crandon_beach.asp
Cordell Baum: www.bonefishwhisperer.com
There are a number of guides that fish Biscayne Bay, but here are a few I can recommend:
Captain Rich Smith: http://www.captainrichsmith.com
Captain Raul Montoro: http://www.biscaynebayfishing.com
Cordell Baum: http://www.bonefishwhisperer.com
Where to Stay
As you might imagine, whatever you want to find here…you can! Start with the needs of the travel party, (are you a couple with a non-fishing partner, family with small children or just anglers) pinpoint a location central to your needs and then set the budget! Everything from price conscious to 5 star luxury can be found through the usual avenues. The Internet will be your best friend to find just what you are looking for, whether a motel or hotel, check out something like VRBO or HomeAway for a condo, cottage or home experience.
Arriving by Air, Miami is the obvious choice for proximity to the area and it services the world.
Renting a car is a must here. It’s easy with an endless number of rental agencies available at the airport and in most towns. If you have one, consider bringing your GPS or rent one with the car…it’s worth it!
Spousal Rating – 7
Why wouldn’t it be a seven, there are a million things to do and the perfect spot to take the family if you are looking for an active vacation.
Within sight of downtown Miami, the diversity of Biscayne Bay is staggering. Outdoor enthusiasts can boat, snorkel, camp, dive, observe wildlife or just hang out on the beach. Rent a stand up paddleboard, windsurf, play tennis, golf or take the South Beach Food and Walking Tour. Spend the day at the Miami Seaquarium or experience Florida alligators up close and personal on an Everglades airboat tour. Take a glass bottom boat or snorkeling tour to really see Biscayne National Park. Need to get out of the sun, visit the Dolphin Mall, home to over 240 value focused designer stores from Nike to Coach and Sony. The options are truly endless!