The Florida Keys offer an Oktoberfest of fishing with something for every taste!
Marathon & Florida Keys Monthly Fishing Forecast – Captain Chris Johnson, SeaSquared Charters – October 2010
Bait fish migration
Shorter days and cooling northern water temperatures trigger a massive migration of all manner of bait fish into the Marathon fishing grounds during October. Sardines, threadfin herring, cigar minnows, ballyhoo, speedos, mullet all voyage down the east and west coasts of Florida to the more temperate Gulf and Atlantic waters.
The abundance of this hearty fare provides a virtual Oktoberfest for all species of predator fish. Sailfish, kingfish, cobia, cero and Spanish mackerel, snapper, grouper and all the jacks feed like Vikings.
Start of sailfish season
The angler’s most difficult choice is which to select from the buffet of fishing opportunities. Sailfish are often the first choice for many. The prime time to target sailfish is early morning or evening.
In Marathon, we typically anchor up on a patch reef and net or hairhook some ballyhoo to put in the live well. We proceed to travel along the reef edge, keeping a watchful eye out for sprays of ballyhoo. Typically, sailfish are causing the commotion. Throwing a live ballyhoo in front of the cruising sail entices a bite. Once hooked, hang on for an acrobatic display worthy of an Olympic medal.
Excellent fare on the wrecks
Mutton snapper and grouper linger on the wrecks and feed aggressively on just about any live bait, but are especially attracted to sardines. Butterfly jigs matching the approximate size and color of the sardines will produce vicious strikes.
Use lots of chum on the reef
Delicious yellowtail snapper are thick on the reef line and feed aggressively on nearly all offerings in your chum slick. I cannot stress enough the importance of using ample chum to produce a good catch of these fine-eating reef dwellers. In a four-hour, half-day of fishing, I generally go through 12 boxes of chum, which I like to spice with oatmeal and glass minnows.
Present a large, live bait on the bottom and you may even be rewarded with some very nice size grouper to take home as a bonus for the dinner table.
Take the time for hogfish
One of the best-eating of all fish, hogfish are plentiful on the patch reefs. They are well worth the extra effort required to capture them. I fish live shrimp directly on the bottom with either a small egg sinker placed a couple of feet in front of the bait or on a small jighead. If the fish gods are in your favor, you may also put a delectable pompano in the cooler.
It pays to put a rod out with a live ballyhoo on the bottom just off the edge of the patch to entice any mutton snapper that might be cruising the area. A second rod fitted with a stinger rig on wire and no weight dangling in your slick will lure any passing mackerel.
A new fishery to the Florida Keys is lionfish. This invasive fish has experienced rapid growth in population due to its lack of natural predators. Lionfish are known to feed on commercially and ecologically important fish species – including snapper, grouper and shrimp – and can disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem.
The good news is they are delicious to eat!
NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, in partnership with Reef Environmental Education Foundation has developed a series of lionfish derbies. Divers who remove lionfish from sanctuary waters are eligible for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes.
Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon hosts one of the derbies on October 16, and the final event takes place at Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West on November 13.
Fall cobia migration
October heralds the onslaught of cobia in the Gulf of Mexico waters in the Marathon area. Many of these fish are in the 25- to 30-pound range, with very few being less than 33-inch fork length. Most dwell on wrecks or natural bottom areas anywhere from 15 to 50 feet deep. Cobia provide a good fight on light tackle as well as excellent table fare.
Grouper and snapper in the Gulf
You will also encounter some nice gag grouper and mangrove snapper in the Gulf waters. Be quick to bring them to the boat, as they have a tendency to get upgraded to 100-plus pounds of Goliath grouper. These monsters are so prevalent they have overtaken any other species on certain wrecks. They do provide good sport, but remember to keep them in the water for their photo opp and release them unharmed.
Shark fishing adventures
Catch-and-release shark fishing offers the best of all worlds: the excitement of a close encounter with a large, toothy critter, the comfort of fishing in the calm, shallow waters near the historic 7 Mile Bridge and the benefit of an eco experience. It is great family fun fishing and an extraordinary experience for anglers of all ages and abilities.
As if the smorgasbord of fall fishing weren’t sufficient temptation, October also offers Fantasy Fest. This year’s theme, “Habitat for Insanity,” will certainly bait you into a visit to the Florida Keys.
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