If you are an adventure seeker, Florida is the place to be in February! And, the Florida Keys deliver up great fishing adventures!
The state of Florida hosts two prestigious annual events guaranteed to provide high adventure on land and on sea – the Daytona 500 and the Miami International Boat Show.
However, ask any charter captain or angler in the Florida Keys and he will tell you there simply is no greater exploit than fishing, and the Middle Keys have an assortment of venues to offer up escapades to satisfy every fortune hunter.
Venture to the reef edge for sailfish, wahoo, blackfin tuna, dolphin and kingfish.
Your strategy should be to locate a patch reef that is holding a school of ballyhoo and anchor up. To load your bait well quickly, either chum and hair hook the ‘hoo individually on rod and reel or throw a cast net. I prefer to hair hook them as it results in higher quality baits that last longer in the live well. However, if you are under time constraints, cast netting will typically fill your bait keep in less than an hour.
On days when the ballyhoo are elusive, small blue runners, pilchards, goggle eyes or speedos will also do the trick. Your gear should consist of 20-pound spin tackle with 50-pound leaders and 4/0 or 6/0 live bait hooks or circle hooks, depending on the size of the bait. The bigger the bait, the bigger the hook.
Snag some tasty snapper while you’re catching bait.
You can do double duty while catching bait by casting for the fine eating yellowtail and mangrove snapper that lurk on the same patch reefs.
Once you have secured sufficient bait, voyage beyond the edge of the reef and patrol the areas from 120 to 200 feet in depth. Charter captains fondly refer to this region as Sailfish Alley.
While you are in pursuit of the sails, you will also encounter good numbers of dolphin, blackfin tuna, wahoo and king mackerel. If you’d like to catch the kings for your smoker, I suggest using a short trace of #6 wire – no more than six or eight inches – to prevent cut-offs.
If the sailfish are not cooperating, explore the wrecks and artificial reefs for amberjack and mutton snapper. That way, your ballyhoo won’t go to waste, but any other live baits will also work. Fish the bait near the bottom, and you’ll have something tasty to take home for dinner.
Snapper action on the reef.
On the reef, the yellowtail bite continues. It is essential to employ ample amounts of chum. Your tactics should incorporate 12-pound light tackle with 20-pound fluorocarbon leaders and #4 to #1 live bait hooks. Drift your offering back in your slick so it appears to be a large piece of chum. You will be rewarded with quick action on the water and a bag full of tasty fillets back at the dock.
Delicious mutton snapper may be attracted to your slick, so it also pays to drift fresh whole ballyhoo or sardines back on 20-pound tackle with a 30- or 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 4/0 live bait hook.
Bounty on the bottom.
There is a wide variety of bottom species lingering on the patch reefs as well as the coral humps and rock piles in Hawk Channel. Your bait of choice is live or fresh dead shrimp fished directly on the bottom while anchored just up current of your spot. You will catch all members of the snapper family along with fine eating porgy, hogfish, Florida pompano, Spanish and cero mackerel. Especially in the month of February, you may even find the occasional sheepshead.
Patch reef fishing is great sport for kids and families. Conditions are typically very calm, while the bite is anything but. During a day of fishing the patches, I often bounce around to four or five of my favorite spots and catch countless species of fish, with the fillet table as the destiny for the majority.
Mack attack in Florida Bay.
Target the Spanish mackerel around the banks and inshore wrecks six to 10 miles from shore. Use 12-pound gear and cut bait, shrimp or small bucktails and Drone spoons.
The kingfish, some of which approach 70 pounds, are found on wrecks slightly further offshore at 15 to 20 miles. Choose 20-pound tackle, and the best baits are large live blue runners or pinfish, small Spanish mackerel as well as large bucktails and Drone spoons.
For all of your mackerel fishing, be sure to include a trace of wire to combat bite offs.
There are also good numbers of mangrove snappers in the mackerel grounds and they are always a nice addition to the cooler and dinner table.
We urge you to spend part of February in the Middle Keys and hope you’ll include a fishing adventure with SeaSquared Charters!