Captain’s Blog – May 12, 2010 – Marathon Florida Keys – May is a busy time of year for fishing the Florida Keys. It seems there’s a tarpon or dolphin tournament every time you turn around.
The tarpon bite has been excellent at the Middle Keys bridges.
If you have never witnessed the finely honed exercise known as bridge tarpon fishing, just take a walk on the old Seven Mile Bridge some evening. The waters below are teeming with rolling tarpon and a cadre of charter boats jostling for the best position to hook one up. When there is a hook up, watch as the captain maneuvers his boat through the bridge pilings to chase the silver king. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the tarpon leap and dance at the end of the line, all with the famous Florida Keys sunset as your backdrop.
This sight will surely inspire you to pick up your cell phone and call one of the many professional charter boat operations located at marinas throughout the Middle and Lower Keys to book a tarpon trip of your own.
The charter captains I’ve talked to this week report plenty of tarpon hook-ups with varying baits working at different locations. Live mullet are working at the Long Key Bridge and the Seven Mile Bridge, while crabs are the ticket at Bahia Honda Bridge. In the Lower Keys and Key West, the captains prefer pinfish and shrimp trash.
Dolphin reign supreme offshore this time of year.
Reports have flowed in of good catches of fish ranging in size from small schoolies all the way to a monster 69.5-pound bull caught off Marathon by Bobby Barr. Rigged ballyhoo are the baits of choice, but the dolphin will also take a wide variety of trolled lures.
Mixed with the dolphin are wahoo and some very nice blackfin tuna. The tuna – both blackfin and skipjack – are also out at the humps. Trolling in the early morning or late evening, or butterfly jigging throughout the day, provide the best results.
Grouper bite remains strong on the reef and wrecks.
Although there are more grouper than anglers winning the tug of war these days. Apparently, they refined their escape tactics during their four-month furlough. The best baits are large live grunts, blue runners or pinfish.
Trolling deep running plugs on the reef will also work well for the grouper, especially with the ultra clean waters we experienced this past week. These fish will go a surprisingly long way to attack the big diving plugs. The key to prevent losing them is to keep the boat moving forward while fighting the fish so it doesn’t get the chance to dive into the reef and cut you off.
Amberjack in the 25- to 40-pound class are also abundant on the reefs and wrecks. A large AJ slurping down his snapper offerings has surprised more than one yellowtail angler. Perhaps not the target species, the amberjack nevertheless provide quite the fight on light tackle.
Snappers on the reef.
The yellowtail action on the reef just gets better and better, with larger fish showing in increasing numbers. Light line, small hooks and mega amounts of chum are essential to ‘tailing success.
There are some rather nice mangrove snapper lingering among the yellowtails. Some are every bit of five pounds. A small live pinfish or pilchard will definitely attract some attention from these snaggle-tooth cousins of the yellowtail.
Beat the heat with some excellent night fishing!
Night fishing for mangroves is proving to be good as well. It’s a little easier to land these fish in the darkness as you can get away with heavier tackle. 15- to 20-pound spinning rods are the way to go and just about any live or dead bait will work. Be sure to keep your lighting to a minimum so as not to spook the fish.
Gulf and bay fishing.
The gulf and bay waters are holding good numbers of mangrove snapper and grouper, and there are more than enough permit to go around. For the snapper and grouper, all the baits and techniques I’ve covered will work, but for the permit, you will need crabs for bait. Remember, the permit are spawning, so please practice catch-and-release fishing for them.
Catch and release shark fishing.
I’ve seen a number of pictures of tarpon cut in half by sharks in the last few days. The shallower grass flat areas and the wrecks are holding tons of lemons and blacktips.
Catch and release shark fishing is an excellent option when the winds prevent you from heading offshore or to the reef. Be cautious when handling the sharks. Never take them out of the water. Always use a de-hooker to remove the hook, if possible. If not, cut the wire as close to the hook as you can without endangering yourself and wave goodbye as the shark swims away to fight another day.
Couple of quick shout-outs to tournament winners last weekend.
Capt. James Platt Jr. guided Suzy Moore to 6 fish for first place angler victory in the Marathon International Tarpon Tournament. Capt. Kevin Goodwin captured first place in the Captain’s Division. His anglers, Col. Pete Knaup and John Kis, caught and released 5 tarpon.
Fishing with Capt. Marty Lewis aboard the Main Attraction, Bruce Boring caught a 37.6-pound dolphin for top honors in the Habitat for Humanity Mother’s Day Dolphin Tournament.