January is the month to fish king size in the Florida Keys!
Sailfish season kicks into high gear in January, as evidence by the plethora of tournaments throughout the Florida Keys.
These prized game fish cover a lot of territory in their quest for food, so you may find them in close spraying ballyhoo in just 20 feet of water as well as anywhere out to 200 feet where they’re balling sardines.
The key to catching sailfish is live bait, with ballyhoo as the absolute number one choice. Ballyhoo caught in a cast net will suffice, but the prime specimens are hair-hooked. Second choice is pilchards, followed closely by goggle eyes and cigar minnows.
Blackfin tuna, wahoo and king mackerel
Mixed among the sailfish are nice size blackfin tuna, typically in the 10- to 20-pound class, along with wahoo and king mackerel.
For the wahoo and kings, we fish a rod deep in the 80- to 120-foot areas. A small live bluerunner or goggle eye is your best bait, although a large pilchard or ballyhoo will also work. We use a two-hook rig with a treble and a stinger plus a trace of #5 or #6 wire. The fun of fishing this sort of set-up is you never know what to expect, so don’t be surprised if you land a large mutton snapper too.
Fishing for yellowtail snapper on the reef is best in 35 to 50 feet of water. Mixed in are plenty of kingfish, mutton snapper and, of course, grouper. Keep in mind, grouper season is closed from January 1 to April 30, so all fish must be released unharmed.
During January, Hawk Channel provides an extensive variety of fish in a more controlled, calm environment. This fishing is great for kids as well as adults, and will fill the cooler with all manner of delicious table fare.
You can expect all the snappers – yellowtail, mangrove, mutton, lane – as well as hogfish, porgy, cero and king mackerel. Lots of groupers here too. The muttons and mackerel prefer pilchards or cigar minnows, while shrimp is the ticket for everything else. Don’t skimp on the shrimp. We normally take 20 dozen shrimp for a half-day charter in Hawk Channel.
Fishing at the bridges, bay and gulf
For more excellent near-shore fishing, head to the Seven Mile Bridge and the shallow wrecks in Florida Bay. You will be rewarded with an abundance of two- to three-pound mangrove snapper, with the occasional five-pounder among the crowd. Shrimp and pinfish will serve you well. There are bonus yellowjack at the bridges too.
Venture a little farther out, say eight to ten miles, and you’ll have all the Spanish mackerel you can handle. The average size is four pounds, but we get them as big as eight. You may even find large kingfish in the same areas.
Spinner and blacktip sharks add some catch-and-release excitement to your day of meat fishing. For these larger fish, we use small live Spanish mackerel, bluefish or bluerunners under a kite or large float to keep the bait out of the grass.
Capt. Chris Johnson SeaSquared Charters Marathon Florida Keys 305-743-5305
Capt. Chris Johnson is a member of the Yamaha National Fishing Team and specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters in Marathon Florida Keys. You can reach him at 305-743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.