With all manner of species migrating during the month of April, the waters off Marathon resemble the Overseas Highway on a holiday weekend with masses of travelers coming and going.
Sailfish head south and west into the Gulf of Mexico to spawn. Most other pelagics, such as dolphin, cobia and kingfish, begin their annual trek northward.
Regardless of the direction they’re traveling, most fish can be found running close to the reef edge anywhere from 100 to 500 feet of water. Dolphin tend to deviate from the traffic pattern in that they journey several miles offshore as well as on the reef.
Beginning in March and continuing through April, our day-to-day weather is dominated by easterly breezes. These produce a condition known a tailing where sailfish, dolphin and cobia surf down the face of waves in search of prey.
With these pelagics feeding so aggressively on the surface, presenting just about any live bait in front of them will produce a bite. Ballyhoo, pilchards, goggle eyes and small blue runners work best.
The king mackerel hang on the deep structure, such as artificial reefs and larger wrecks, with the Seven Mile Bridge rubble and the Thunderbolt being key spots. Live baits, butterfly jigs and bucktails all do the trick for the kings. If you choose to use artificials, retrieving them quickly through the middle of the water column will typically result in a jarring strike.
Amberjack are in the same areas. They will readily take larger live baits, such as blue runners and grunts, as well as pinfish, bucktails and butterfly jigs.
It’s migration time for yellowtail snapper also as the largest of the group begin their spawning ritual on the reef in May. As a rule, the biggest flag ‘tails are found from 70 feet out to 100 feet of water on the deeper edge of the reef.
The secret to attracting flag yellowtail snapper is using copious amounts of chum. All variety of frozen and fresh baits work, with light lines and leaders and small hooks the way to go.
Mangrove and mutton snapper
To celebrate the opening of grouper season, the 7 Mile Marina and Captain Hook’s Marina in Marathon are hosting the 2nd Annual Florida Keys Grouper Tournament. Winners take all in rod-and-reel and spearfish divisions for largest black, red and gag grouper. The entry fee is only $100 per boat (up to six anglers), $50 for adult spearfishermen and $35 for junior spearfishermen. For more information, call (305) 395-0546 or (305) 743-2444.
The tarpon fishing really begins to heat up in April as migratory fish show in increasing numbers. Crabs and live mullet are the baits of choice. Pinfish will work in a pinch at the Seven Mile and Bahia Honda Bridges.
Bay and gulf
In the bay and gulf waters, mangrove snapper will bite consistently. Permit and cobia will begin showing on the wrecks. Small crabs are the preferred bait for the permit, although shrimp will work if you can’t find crabs. Any live offering will do for the cobia as they are not at all particular about what they eat.