There are plenty of great winter fishing options in the Middle Florida Keys to put that new rod and reel to good use!
Marathon and Middle Florida Keys Monthly Fishing Forecast – Captain Chris Johnson, SeaSquared Charters – January 2011
Big game options
Sailfish reign supreme at the reef edge off Marathon throughout the winter months. If you can handle it, the rougher the better for catching these acrobatic billfish. A good north to northeast wind really puts the sails on the feed.
Most often, we catch sailfish spraying ballyhoo on the reef in just 20 to 30 feet of water. There’s nothing more fun than chasing after the fleeing ballyhoo with the frigate birds diving overhead as you pitch a bait directly toward the sailfish.
If you don’t find the sailfish trailing the ballyhoo, you can work the reef edge in the 100- to 200-foot depths by live-baiting pilchards or ballyhoo. Kite fishing with goggle eyes or small blue runners also proves worthwhile.
Sailfish are not the only ones to attack these baits with abandon.
The mighty kingfish roam the same areas. The kings average 10 to 20 pounds this time of year with some real smokers of 60-plus pounds making their way to the boat on occasion. You may even encounter some wahoo and winter dolphin for a tasty addition to the cooler.
Reef and wreck offerings
Yellowtail snapper are abundant on the Marathon reef and will average 16 to 18 inches. Copious amounts of chum and a variety of frozen baits or fresh shrimp are the key to attracting these succulent specimens.
The inshore wrecks hold nice size mutton snapper in the 10- to 15-pound class plus fair numbers of amberjack. These fish respond to live baits such as ballyhoo or pilchards, but pinfish will also do the trick.
Mackerel and mangroves in Florida Bay
Affectionately referred to as spotted speedsters, Spanish mackerel give you a good run for your money and are excellent on the table or in the smoker. Chumming plus live shrimp, small pilchards or pinfish drifted back in your slick works best. For lightening strikes, fish a Tsunami bucktail cast back and retrieved rapidly.
Once you get your limit of mackerel, move to a near shore wreck or bank and catch yourself a nice bunch of mangrove snapper. These fish respond to the same offerings as the Spanish mackerel, which makes it a nice stop on your way home.
Florida Keys smoked fish
Click here to learn how we brine and smoke mackerel.
Click here for our smoked fish dip recipe.
Cobia and more on the Gulf wrecks
On the far Gulf wrecks in the Marathon area, you will find a wide variety of species willing to bite, including king and Spanish mackerel, bluefish, mangrove snapper, cobia and even some hard-fighting jack crevalle.
Chum and live bait are the best approach, with pinfish being my favorite bait. For some exciting action with the big kings, nothing beats a blue runner either flown from a kite or tethered to a balloon. You will attract fish in the 40- to 50-pound category.
January is a good time to brush up on the current fishing regulations, which you can find at the FWC website. We urge you to get involved to protect your right to fish by joining The Recreational Fishing Alliance and Coastal Conservation Association.
May 2011 be filled with great fishing!
Have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011 filled with family, friends and fishing! And, remember, only 120 days until grouper season!