To remind us that hurricane season is upon us, Tropical Storm Alex made for some rather sporty conditions last week.
Those with large boats and strong stomachs braved some intense seas and found good dolphin fishing. As predicted, the dolphin have moved inshore somewhat. There are lots of keeper schoolies being taken along with a fair number of gaffers and the occasional slammer.
Apparently, all those 19-inch dolphin we were seeing a couple of weeks ago have either grown up or moved on. This is good news for anglers seeking a dolphin dinner.
The dolphin are popping up in the 400- to 500-foot depths. I heard of no one going any further due to the windy conditions and confused seas. Most reports stated that if you see a couple of birds working the surface, you’re almost guaranteed a school of dolphin under them.
Rigged ballyhoo is always to go-to bait for dolphin fishing. However, with conditions making for difficult running-and-gunning, a lot of anglers are trolling lures. Blue and white chuggers or Billy Bait type lures are always good on the brighter days. When it’s cloudy, anything with green and yellow seems to hold an edge.
Bonus wahoo and tripletail
Weed lines or floating debris always pay big dividends. Be prepared for a bonus wahoo by having a lipped diving plug rigged with wire or a heavy jet head lure, such as an Iland, with a rigged ballyhoo on wire.
Keep and eye out for tripletail around the debris as well. Your best tactic is to use a piece of shrimp on a 1/8 to ¼ ounce Hank Brown HookUp Lures jig head cast directly into the face of the tripletail. Most times the fish will inhale the bait without hesitation. Although prehistoric looking, tripletail are beautiful and delicious on the table.
Inshore on the reef, the yellowtail snapper have been biting consistently.
Using large amounts of chum is the trick to attracting and keeping the yellowtails behind your boat. All variety of but baits, such as pieces of ballyhoo, squid or chunks of sardine, have been working well along with silversides and glass minnows.
The absolute best way to catch the biggest flag yellowtails is to get your hands on some 2- to 3-inch pilchards. Draw the flags up to your boat and throw handfuls of these small baitfish back to them. As they begin busting on the pilchards, pitch your hooked bait into the middle of the feeding frenzy and hang on.
This tactic will allow you to fish slightly heavier tackle, which will aid in keeping the fish from dragging your line into the reef and cutting you off. These yellowtail will be some of the largest you have ever caught with some besting the 5-pound mark (that’s typically a 26-incher).
Mangrove and mutton snapper
Mixed with the yellowtail have been good amounts of mangrove snapper. For the best results, use larger chunk baits, small live pilchards or 2-inch pinfish rigged on Hank Brown HookUp Lures jig heads and drifted back in your slick near the bottom.
In the same areas as the larger mangroves, there are plenty of mutton snapper. The muttons average 8 to 10 pounds with a few getting near the 18-pound mark. Use the same baits as you would for the mangroves.
The patch reefs are yielding abundant mangrove snapper as well as lots of just-legal yellowtail snapper. Mixed in are good numbers of cero mackerel plus plentiful red and gag grouper.
Hogfish are typically found in the sandy area immediately surrounding the patch reef where they are rooting for small crustaceans to eat. If you’re willing to invest the time, a fresh shrimp presented directly on the bottom has been providing a fair share of these tasty delights. I like to use a 1/8 or ¾ ounce Hank Brown HookUp Lures jig head with a whole fresh shrimp threaded onto the hook and dropped straight to the bottom.
Pan-fish on the bayside
On the bayside of the islands, there are good numbers of legal size mangrove snapper to be had around the banks, grass beds and inshore wrecks. With most of the largest mangroves hanging on the reef edge right now, the ones you get in the bay range in size from just-legal to the occasional 18-incher.
You will also find all sorts of other pan fish species in these areas – hogfish, mutton and yellowtail snapper, small grouper. All make for excellent family fishing with non-stop rod bending in calm seas and the added bonus of a fresh fish dinner at the end of the day.