Just like your skin in the Florida Keys heat, the reef is on fire.
Snapper of all variety are fueling their desire for sex by eating everything in sight. Any depth at any of the well-known reef fishing areas is producing above par catches.
There are abundant 14- to 16- inch yellowtail snapper in the 35- to 60-foot depths. The larger flags are being found deeper, in the 80- to 100- foot range. All manner of cut bait is working. Plenty of chum, oats and glass minnows will get them feeding aggressively.
Mutton and mangrove snapper are responding to small baits presented on or near the bottom. Also working well is flat lining dead baits back in the slick on slightly heavier tackle than typically used for yellowtailing. Sardines or ballyhoo are the ticket.
There are good numbers of black and gag grouper on the reef as well. Just about any large live offering will do the trick.
From what I’ve experienced and heard from others, everyone is facing the shark challenge while fishing the reef these days.
Once you anchor up, I recommend waiting a bit to put the chum out. Drop your grouper baits to the bottom and, hopefully, land a few. When the grouper bite slows, proceed to yellowtailing by putting the chum in the water. Withholding the chum for an hour or so will enable you to land more grouper before the man with the teeth steals them from you.
One benefit to having the bull sharks marauding the reef is they seem to have more than a few cobia in tow.
The majority of these cobes are short (under 33” fork length), but there is the occasional keeper mixed in. It definitely pays to have a rod designated for the cobia so you can pitch it as soon as you spot one.
On the Marathon reef, there are quite a few king mackerel and some of the biggest cero mackerel we’ve ever seen. Live baits, such as pinfish or threadfin herring, work best with a short trace of wire to prevent bite-offs.
The mackerel have also been attacking the dead baits meant for the mangrove and mutton snapper. With a short trace of very light wire on your lines, you’ll have a shot at the snapper as well as the ability to land the kings and ceros.
On the wrecks and rough bottom patches, there is a good amount of large mutton snapper being taken. Anglers are also catching big grouper, amberjack and jack crevalle. Threadfin herring and other live baits have been working best, but live pinfish will do if that’s all you can obtain.
Offshore, the dolphin bite continues to be good, but the majority are on the short side. The minimum size is 20 inches to the fork of the tail. There have been a lot of 19-inch peanuts caught and released lately.
However, there have been some large, 40- to 60-pound dolphin for a few lucky anglers with the willingness and ability to venture 30-plus miles offshore to hunt them down. Hopefully, we’ll get another shot at keeper size fish in the near future to satisfy those craving a mahi mahi sandwich.
More than a couple of wahoo have been caught in the same areas as the schoolie dolphin. They’re usually found around floaters, although they’ve been patrolling weed lines in search of a peanut snack of late.
The best way to take these delicious speedsters is to troll a dolphin-colored plug with a short trace of wire parallel with the weed line. This should result in some rather jarring strikes.
The blackfin tuna are still plentiful at the humps, with most fish in the 5- to 15- pound range.
Also cruising the humps are blue marlin. Those interested in targeting marlin should concentrate their efforts in the areas where there are skipjack and blackfin tuna, as these are their primary forage. If you’re willing to put in the time and troll marlin-sized baits, you should at least see a few and possibly hook one up in a day’s fishing.
The tarpon fishing at the bridges and channels remains strong and should continue so for the coming weeks. As for the Palolo worm hatch, it’s a case of wait and see.
Around the grass flats in the bay and gulf there are plenty of sharks to go around. Most of them are lemons in the 5- to 7-foot range, which provide quite the fishing adventure on light tackle. On the bay wrecks, there are blacktip sharks as well as the occasional bull shark. Catch-and-release shark fishing provides all the fun and challenge of big game sport fishing at a fraction of the cost and is ideally suited for family fun fishing!