The waters off Marathon offer ample opportunities for a wide variety of fishing during February. With all our wintertime visitors firmly established plus the presence of our resident reef fish, there’s an abundance of species to fish for no matter the weather conditions.
When the weather moderates between cold fronts, the reef action is typically quite good. You’ll want to carry an assortment of both live and dead baits this time of year.
There’s plenty of yellowtail snappers along with some nice mutton snappers in the chum slicks. Cut baits or fresh shrimp work best for the yellowtails, while the muttons prefer small, live baits, such as pilchards or pinfish.
Copious amounts of chum are essential to successful reef fishing. We supplement our frozen block chum with YellowtailUp and ChumDrop from Aquatic Nutrition. These innovative dry chum kits are just what Dr. Snapper ordered and have dramatically improved our snapper catches. Ask your local bait shop or visit them online at AquaticNutrition.com.
Kingfish are in the slicks as well, and they love nothing more than a well-presented pilchard. Use a small trace of wire with a #1 or #2 treble hook in the nose of a pilchard, and you should be hooked up in no time. The reef kings average 10 to 20 pounds now, with the occasional smoker over 30 making an appearance.
We had lots of sailfish activity during January, and we expect that to continue into February.
This time of year, we typically need to go a bit deeper for them to the 150- to 200- foot ranges. Kite-flying with a lively type of bait such as goggle eyes or small bluerunners elicit the most bites, but you can still catch the sails with pilchards or cigar minnows. In the same areas, you’ll find an assortment of mackerel, wahoo, blackfin tuna and the occasional dolphin.
Here’s a little trick for you. If you find you’re covered up in kings and bonitas, you need to move. If you’re catching blackfins and dolphin, you’re in the right zone for sailfish. This is a general rule of thumb that works any time of the year, but especially during February and March.
It pays to fly a kite while anchored on the reef to open yourself to the opportunity to catch sailfish, blackfin tuna, kingfish or even wahoo. We like to use a lively type of bait, like goggle eyes or small bluerunners, from the kite.
It’s hard to beat the Hawk Channel and patch reef areas for excellent light-tackle fishing for all manner of fun-catching and good-eating fish. Conditions are generally smoother than out on the reef edge, with seas never getting much bigger than two to three feet.
And, with these 25- to 40-foot venues just a couple of miles from shore, your fishing time far eclipses your travel time. What you save in fuel you can spend on bait. Fish longer, catch more and have a ton of fun!
Your bait of choice is live or fresh dead shrimp. Present your bait directly on the bottom and you will load up with all manner of snapper – lane, yellowtail, mangrove and mutton. Various other food fish also respond to a shrimp offering, including the much sought-after Florida pompano, porgy and hogfish.
The bridges and nearshore Florida Bay produce loads of mangrove snapper, hogfish and porgy this time of year. A littler further out in the Bay, the Spanish mackerel bite is excellent. And, in the Gulf, you have cobia, big king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, snappers, Goliath grouper and tons of sharks.
Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, reef/wreck, gulf/bay, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters, docked at Faro Blanco Resort and Yacht Club in Marathon. You can reach him at 305-743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com. For daily fishing reports with pictures, please click over to http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.