Captain’s Blog – March 31, 2010 – Marathon Florida Keys – We wait for it each spring. Some years it’s more spectacular than others. This season looks to be a chart-topper.
I’m talking about the annual sailfish migration through the Keys. They are moving west to spawn. They travel in great numbers and perform a phenomenon called “tailing.” In search of baitfish, the sails surf the currents with their tails exposed on the surface at the color change in the Gulf Stream.
During the past week or so, the hottest sailfish action has been American Shoal off Looe Key where there is a very distinct color change occurring in the 200- to 300- foot depths. Most of the sails have been spotted on the dirty side of the color change and then caught as they ambush baits on the blue side.
Most charter captains are using large pilchards as well as cigar minnows as bait. If neither is available, small blue runners and live ballyhoo will work. The ‘hoo have been few and far between lately, but if you are lucky enough to find some, they are irresistible to the sailfish.
Among the tailing sails are good numbers of cobia. Most captains report seeing them in pairs and are using the same baits and tactics that are working for the sailfish. Some of the cobes have been upward of 60 pounds. They make for a tasty bonus when sport fishing. There has also been a smattering of dolphin in the blue water mix.
Notably, there have been quite a few hammerhead sharks seen swimming on the surface at the color change. These make for an interesting sidebar while searching for sails and can often be baited up with a mackerel filet or a large live blue runner. Great news for the Marathon Sharkathon, which takes place April 9-10 at the 7 Mile Marina.
Fishing for yellowtail snapper in 35 to 40 feet of water on the reef remains very good. It will get better and the fish larger with each passing week. Right now, the ‘tails average 15 to 16 inches, with the occasional fish at 20 inches.
There is also a fair showing of mutton snapper mixed with the yellowtails. These can be taken on a large whole bait drifted back in your slick on 20-pound tackle. I like to use a ballyhoo or a whole sardine.
This approach also works well for kingfish, although you will need to add a short trace of wire to prevent bite offs. Most of the kings are running 10 to 20 pounds with a few larger ones joining in. To target the big boys, get some oversize live blue runners and drift them back on a large float or balloon and then hang on!
The patch reefs in the Middle Keys remain as active as ever with lots of mangrove, lane and yellowtail snapper. The most productive bait is shrimp. If your objective is to catch the largest of the mangroves, I recommend using small pilchards or two- to three-inch live pinfish on a HookUp Lures jig head.
There is also a reasonable showing of kingfish and Spanish mackerel on the patches, and many anglers have been rewarded recently with a tasty hogfish taking their shrimp bait.
If you’re looking for non-stop rod bending for the kids, head to the bay to fish for mangrove snapper and all the Spanish mackerel you could possibly want. Remember to use a short trace of light wire on your hooks or jig heads to prevent bite offs. Shrimp and cut bait will do the trick.