Select Page

Planning to catch the notorious Palolo worm hatch in the Keys this spring? It’s still always a guessing game even for the seasoned captains that live here. The formula has always been known to be on a full or new moon with an outgoing tide into the evening hours. For 2017 it looks like the first time it could occur is on May 10th or within 3 days of the date. The outgoing tide is just about perfect on the 13th. So that’s my guess…

But the tarpon will key in on that worm way before the full moon. They tend to do a disappearing act close to the worm hatch time. Sure you can still find them concentrated between the Old and New Bahia Honda Bridges, but on the flats they may be scarce. Then when you find them be sure to try a worm fly if you are fly fishing. Chances are they are already keyed in on the worm and will follow and even take a worm fly without much coaxing. Tarpon start acting strange sometimes a week before the worms emerge from the hard coral rock. They might even just about disappear on the flats. It’s usually a tell tale sign that the “hatch” is going to happen.  It’s frustrating to say the least when you run around all day looking for a meatball of fish only to find tarpon here and there scattered along the ocean flats. Of course there are other places to find them but those big ocean fish are what attracts fly anglers to the Keys this time of year and keeps them coming back year after year.

Feeding tarpon during a worm hatch, however, can be a whole different story. Some anglers seem to think it’s like a “gimme” where you throw the fly in and automatically hook up. If that has happened to you – awesome! In fly fishing we tie and strip the fly to mimic the real thing. A Palolo worm will emerge from the coral rock and swim to the surface and continue its journey along the surface of the water.

Palolo Worms in Key West

Palolo Worms – collected for observation

The worm hatch will create a frenzy of tarpon in areas on the oceanside and around Key West Harbor. Sometimes if there are too many worms, your fly can be forgotten. The key is to get it right on their nose and use a long sweeping strip or striper strip so emulate the movement of the Palolo Worm.

Tarpon will swim differently too. They almost wiggle on the surface and you will see them not just roll but stay up longer pursuing a worm as it darts along the surface.

Worm Flies are very simple to tie and I suggest rigging up the fly on the leader before you get out there. Do a dozen if you have time. Whether you just want a few jumps out of the fish or want to land him (which I don’t really suggest during the hatch because you are missing all the fun) you will lose a few flies.

Moon Phases

Next Full Moon: May 10, 2017 – 5:42 pm
Next New Moon: May 25, 2017 – 3:44 pm

Palolo Worm Fly

Bruce Chard’s Palolo Worm Fly – From Gink and Gasoline