‘Tis the season for sailfish in Marathon and the Middle Keys!
Marathon & Florida Keys Monthly Fishing Forecast – Captain Chris Johnson, SeaSquared Charters – December 2010
Sport fishing for sailfish
Every cold front that passed through in November brought with it another wave of sailfish to take up residence off the edge of the reef. Now that it’s December, it’s all about chasing sails as they spray ballyhoo in 20 to 30 feet of water.
There’s nothing more exciting than watching frigate birds working the surface of the water as the hapless ballyhoo are pushed skyward by the marauding sailfish. The absolute best bait this month is live ballyhoo, although pilchards also work at times.
How the charter captains in the Florida Keys fish for sailfish
Here’s how the charter captains in the Marathon area go about sport fishing for sailfish. Recreational anglers with the proper equipment and expertise can easily do the same.
When we set out in the morning, we first anchor up on a patch reef in 20 to 25 feet of water and hang a block of chum over the side. Then we wait for the ballyhoo to show up, making sure our cast net is ready and our live well open and ready. Once the beaked baits are present, we throw the net on them and get them into the live well as quickly as possible.
If you are not adept at throwing a cast net, you can easily hair hook the ballyhoo. Simply use a small spinning rod with a long shank Aberdeen type hook in size 8 or 10 and a small cork about half way up the line. Cast a small piece of shrimp bait back among the ballyhoo and wait for the pull. Reel the fish in quickly, use a dehooking tool for minimal damage and drop it in the live well. Always try to avoid handling the ballyhoo until you’re ready to use them.
Once we’ve secured a good amount of ballyhoo, we wait along the deep side of the reef line. We may throw out a livie or two while scanning the reef edge for showering ballyhoo or diving frigate birds.
When we spot some action in the distance, we run to the spot, being careful not to drive through the center of the melee. It typically takes no time at all to see the sailfish or whatever it is that is causing the baitfish to flee.
Our ballyhoo has been attached to a 6/0 circle hook via a wire wound around its beak. We pitch this bait in front of the sailfish and hope for a positive reaction.
Should the sailfish ignore our bait, we keep trying as long as we can see the fish. Not every fish will bite, as they are often satiated from feasting on the balls of ballyhoo.
We always have multiple rods ready as there are often two, three or four sailfish herding the ballyhoo, and there are good chances for multiple hookups in the same bait spray. Sometimes we find dolphin causing the bait spray, and the same techniques work for them.
If there is no spray action on the shallow reef or the bite dies off mid-morning, we take our ballyhoo out to the deep edge of the reef. In about 120 feet of water, we’ll put two to four baits out and begin drifting. I like to stagger the baits from 100 feet to 20 feet behind the boat. This technique often works to raise some sails.
December is also the season for mackerel in Marathon and the Middle Keys
King, Spanish and cero mackerel are here in abundance this time of year, and they’re all prime for the smoker. Here in south Florida, you’re likely to get more gifts from Santa if you leave him a nice serving of smoked fish dip rather than cookies!
The kingfish average anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds, with some smokers weighing in at 40 pounds. The Spanish and cero mackerel run 2 to 4 pounds, with the occasional larger specimen pushing 8 pounds or more. All of the mackerel are consistently caught on both the Atlantic and Gulf sides, and the usual tactics work for these toothy speedsters.
The reef bite continues to be dependable during December
Remember … December is your last opportunity to catch your 2010 grouper as the season closes for four months on January 1.
Wintertime fishing in the Gulf of Mexico
On the Gulf side of the islands of the Middle Keys, cobia, gag grouper, mangrove snapper and, as mentioned above, mackerel all provide steady action on the wrecks 15 to 50 miles offshore. Pinfish and pilchards are your baits of choice.
Casting for Charity
While you’re visiting or fishing in Marathon and the Middle Keys, we invite you to check out Capt. Spider’s Casting for Charity Contest. Held on alternate Tuesdays at Salty’s Waterfront Grill in the 7 Mile Marina, the event tests your casting skills while raising money for local non-profit organizations. Click here fore more information and a current schedule.