Florida Keys Fishing Report for April 21, 2010

Captain’s Blog – April 21, 2010 – Marathon Florida Keys –  Lots of excitement at the World Sailfish Championship in Key West.

In last week’s report, I predicted conditions should be ideal for tailing, which should translate to impressive catches in the 8th Annual World Sailfish Championship, which took place April 13-17 in Key West.

In fact, the wind blew at a sustained 30 knots, with gusts as high as 40 knots, for the first two days of the tournament.  Day one got off to a quick start with the first release logged in at 8:04 am.  The pace continued throughout the day, with releases logged about every three minutes, for a total of 244.

The action slowed a tad on day two, with 134 releases.  Cloudy conditions – or perhaps it was because both the anglers and the sailfish were plum worn out – made for just 81 releases on the final day.

In all, 66 teams released 491 sailfish over the course of the three-day event.

Congratulations to Team Barefoot out of Ft. Lauderdale (owner Jim Sullivan and Captain Kris McKenney) on a spectacular win at the 2010 World Sailfish Championship.  They were in the lead at the end of the first day and prevailed to victory with 24 sailfish released and winnings of over $174,000.

Second and third place honors go to Keys-based teams.  Based in Key Largo, Team Lights Out (owner Bill Haugland and Captain Chester Sims), was nipping at the heels of Team Barefoot from the very start.  They completed the event with 23 sails released to take second place.  Team Cracker (owner Chris Schultz and Captain Scott Walker) did Duck Key proud with their capture of third place with 21 sailfish.

Team Lights Out and Team Cracker also took home checks for their respective charities, the March of Dimes and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. 

Special recognition goes to 16 year-old Nicole Portuondo, fishing with her dad Ernie and crew on Team SeaHunter out of Miami.  Nicole caught and released six sailfish to capture not only Top Junior Angler honors, but Top Female Angler as well.  This is one young lady to keep your eye on!

Chris King and his team who founded the World Sailfish Tournament and the Sailfish Pro Series are talking about putting together a new marlin tournament to take place in the Bahamas this summer.  If you’re interested in participating, contact event organizers at 866-550-5580.

At the end of the event on Saturday, I took note of quite a bit of table fare hitting the docks at A&B Marina in Key West.  Many of the tournament boats unloaded dolphin, blackfin tuna and wahoo.  Team Kluch, fishing on the X Generation, showed off a nice cobia that appeared to be in the 65-pound class.

This should give you a good picture of what’s happening offshore. 

There are plenty of sailfish for the sportsmen.  The dolphin run is accelerating.  The blackfin tuna and wahoo are making a good showing.  And, the cobia are still migrating through.

The charter Captains in Marathon are reporting schools of peanut size dolphin (fish less than 20-inch fork length) being spotted under birds and debris.  I said it last week, but it bears repeating.  It always pays to hunt around these schools as the heftier bulls and cows have a propensity to feed on their diminutive brethren.

When approaching bird action, drop your baits in a little earlier than you normally would and troll toward the melee.  Trolling large dolphin-colored lures will most likely reward you with slammer size dolphin (fish over 30 pounds).  You may not get as many bites on a lure as you would on a live bait, but they may be your best bites of the day.   

Be sure to have a couple of live baits at the ready in case the dolphin refuse your artificial offering.  If you can visibly see the fish, pitch the live bait directly to it.

If the dolphin are elusive, head to the humps to fish for blackfin tuna.  They’re biting aggressively right now, with fish varying in size from little footballs to about 20 pounds.  Take your pick between fishing live baits and butterfly jigging.

While at the humps, drop to the bottom for good tilefish, queen snapper and snowy grouper action.

Inshore on the wrecks and rough bottom patches, there is still plenty of amberjack to be had along with fair numbers of mutton snapper.  As temperatures rise in the weeks to come, the mutton fishing will get better and better with big fish the norm.  Pinfish and pilchards are your baits of choice.  If you don’t have the time or ability to procure live bait, a butterflied ballyhoo will work just fine.

And – surprise – there are tons of grouper in the same areas. 

Ten days and counting until we can keep all the ones that have been taunting us since the season closed on January 1. 

To celebrate the opening of grouper season, there’s a new Keys wide tournament taking place on May 1.  Captain Hook’s Marina and Dive Center and the 7 Mile Marina have joined forces to create the Florida Keys Grouper Tournament.   The event includes an Angler Division and a Spearfishing Division.  The heaviest grouper – red, black or gag – in each division wins a cash prize. 

If you’re an angler or an underwater hunter, this is the tournament for you. 

You know you’re going to be targeting grouper on May 1 anyway, and it’s very inexpensive to enter.  For more information, please click here

On the reef, the yellowtail bite remains strong, with many more flags joining the catches as the water temperatures continue to climb.  Some are having success in 30 to 40 feet of water, while I’ve heard of others fishing in 70- to 90-foot depths.  The key right now is to have plenty of chum, lots of oats and a variety of cut baits and shrimp.  Variety is the spice of life these days for the yellowtail as they are as fickle as a teenage girl in their eating habits.

Mangrove snapper are on the reef as well.  Use small live baits, such as pinfish or pilchards, presented on or near the bottom on a ¼ to 3/8 ounce HookUp Lures jig head.  Allow the fish to run a little when it takes the bait.  Most Captains recommend allowing five seconds or so for the snapper to swallow the bait before setting the hook.

And – surprise – there are tons of grouper in the same areas.

The action on the patch reefs typically slows as the waters warm.  Only the smaller snapper linger on the patches while their bigger brethren have moved out to the reef edge.  You’ll be hard pressed to find keepers, and your time is better spent farther from shore.

In the bay and gulf, the gag grouper are plentiful as are the Goliath grouper.  And – finally – the cobia are beginning to migrate through.  Better late than never, I guess.  The permit are also beginning to show on the wrecks.  Live bait is key.  Pinfish for the grouper and cobia; crabs for the permit.

As the charter Captains in the Middle Keys are fond of saying, the tarpon come along with the taxman. 

Indeed, tarpon sightings are rampant at Long Key Bridge, the Seven Mile Bridge and Bahia Honda Bridge.  Live mullet and blue crabs are the preferred baits, but pinfish work just as well.

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