Spend some time out on the water off the Florida Keys and you'll quickly come to realize what so many have before: this pristine area is truly a fishing paradise. There's something about the confluence of coral, currents and conditions that make this tiny archipelago jutting out between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean a spectacular panoply of diverse marine life. Whatever you hope to catch, there's a good chance you'll find it in the Keys. You just have to know where to look. That's how we met Connor Flamm.
A few years back, we needed a flats guide in Islamorada who knew where to find the fish. Safe to say, we couldn't have picked anyone better. "My dad put me on the water when I was born," he said as we headed out. Flamm has all the pieces of a great guide—an affable demeanor, laid-back approach and an uncanny ability to find fish. Combined, it made for a great day on the water.
"My favorite part about taking people out is showing them what I get to experience on a weekly basis. Nothing beats the excitement of people catching their first fish there," Connor told us on our most recent trip to the Keys, as we caught up with him and his wife Natalie, an equally avid and accomplished fly fisher.
He's one of those lucky guys who turned a hobby into a full-time gig, a person who lives the "it's not work if you love what you're doing" philosophy. And, like so many great stories, it started organically and grew from there.
"The transition from being a recreational angler to guiding kind of happened on its own. I enjoyed fishing so much, and I had so many buddies that were guides, too, and I had already had my captain's license. People started reaching out to me for trips and I was like, ‘Eh, I'll pull you around. Let's see how it goes,'" Connor said. "I enjoy guiding people—they get so excited fishing the flats, whether you're catching fish or not, it's so peaceful to be out there and be in nature."
For Natalie, the lure of the flats has put her on the forefront of fly fishing's changing demographic landscape.
"There's no doubt that the fishing world has traditionally been pretty male-oriented. But I think with social media, you're seeing fly fisherwomen coming up everywhere," Natalie told us. "At first, I struggled with it a little bit because I'm from the fashion world, but I also love fly fishing. So it's like two different worlds. I had all my friends in the fashion industry, but then I was hanging out with the guys on the weekends and fishing with them. But I think we're getting a lot more women in the industry. It's not so much of a boys' club anymore."
Living in Islamorada with their two golden retrievers, they balance their day-to-day lives with their fishing adventures and the pursuit of other passions, like photography and traveling.
"When I'm not fishing, I love to take photos, hang out with friends and travel," Natalie told us. "We love to travel. You got to get off of the rock sometimes."
Getting "off the rock" is one of Connor's favorite perks of being a flats guide. "What I love about being on the water is just the serenity—being able to get away from people and just listen to nature and be secluded from the world," he said. "There's nothing better than a calm day out in the Everglades when all you hear are birds or silence. You can't beat it."
Their desire to fly fish across the globe has already taken Connor and Natalie to incredible places, and they both hope new destinations are on the not-so-distant horizon. "I've never bonefished in the Bahamas. So that would be amazing," Natalie told us.
Connor has his sights set on Pacific waters: "I've always wanted to go to Baja, Mexico and catch roosterfish on the fly from the beach. There's something about chasing roosterfish in crystal clear water in super remote areas that would be awesome."
For now, though, they're more than content seeking the next big strike at their favorite local fishing spots.
"My favorite fish to catch is definitely tarpon on fly," Connor told us. "You can't beat it—feeding the fish and watching the fly get inhaled by a giant mouth. And then the second that that happens, all hell breaks loose. The fish goes flying. A hundred-plus pound fish goes six feet out of the water. The first tarpon I caught, that's what really sparked the fire inside me for fishing."
Anyone searching for that same spark, or a taste of the Good Life, should head south and just keep going until they reach the Keys.
"The diversity of fishing in the Keys is unmatched," Connor told us. "There's some good people down here, too. For flats guides, we're all after one thing—to have a good time fishing."
Now that's a guide we'd be happy to follow any day.