November offers a veritable feast of fishing opportunities in Marathon!
Whether your tastes favor pursuing pelagic species, meat-hunting on the reefs and wrecks or wrestling sharks in shallow water, this is the month for you!
The driving force for all of our fishing this time of year is the influx of massive quantities of baitfish, primarily ballyhoo.
On the Atlantic side of the islands, the pelagics tend to move in close to the reef edge in hot pursuit of the ballyhoo that migrate there from the Gulf waters. The mix of sailfish, dolphin, blackfin tuna, king mackerel and cobia makes for an action-packed fishing quest.
The sailfish are quite often spotted spraying ballyhoo on the shallow edge of the reef in 20 to 30 feet of water. This creates exhilarating sight-casting opportunities. And, when it’s really good, expect high catch numbers.
When the sailfish aren’t up shallow chasing the ‘hoos, seek them out off the deeper edge of the reef in 100 to 130 feet. This is where the predators wait to ambush wayward schools of ballyhoo.
Your spread should imitate these baitfish schools. Fish live ballyhoo on the surface plus one deeper in 50 to 70 feet with a trace of wire. If the fish gods are smiling on you, you might even catch a mutton snapper or grouper on your deep rod.
Don’t bypass the ultimate pelagic species, the wahoo, which are frequently found patrolling the reef edge. Should you luck into action with a couple of blackfin or dolphin, redrift that area, as they are not randomly holding in the middle of nowhere without some friends along for company.
Cooler water temperatures generate hotter snapper fishing on the reef.
Flag yellowtail snapper are prevalent along the deep edge of the reef in the 70- to 90-foot depths, while there are loads of medium size fish in 30 to 60 feet. By fishing live ballyhoo on jigheads near the bottom, you may also catch bonus mutton snapper, large mangrove snapper and grouper of all variety.
Keep a ballyhoo on the surface for any roaming king or cero mackerel that has an interest in your chum slick. Live pilchards also work in this situation, but the ballyhoo are definitely the prime choice of all the Oceanside fish this time of year.
The wrecks and rough bottom patches in the Gulf of Mexico come alive with gag grouper, Goliath grouper, jack crevalle, bluefish, king and Spanish mackerel. These fish are not picky eaters, so any live bait works well, including pinfish, pilchards and threadfin herring.
If you’re looking to tangle with large, toothy critters, put out a live bluerunner on a kite or large float and you’re liable to hook into the blacktip, spinner and bull sharks that rove around the perimeters of the wrecks. This is also an excellent technique to connect with some very large king mackerel.
During November, the annual run of Spanish mackerel begins in the inshore waters of Florida Bay. Situate yourself in eight to twelve feet of water in a grassy-bottom area and begin chumming. When the mackerel show, it’s typically en masse. Shrimp on a jighead, small live pilchards, or any small shiny spoon or bucktail all produce immediate results. All must be fished with a short trace of #4 wire six inches or so in length.
Good numbers of mangrove snapper populate the same areas, and shrimp or chunks of ballyhoo are your best baits.
Countless sharks of all size and variety show up around the shallow banks and channel cuts in Florida Bay. Take an assortment of tackle to match whatever you may encounter. We use 20-pound spinning tackle for the spinners, blacktips and lemons. But, we like to amp up to 30-pound for larger bulls and the occasional hammerheads.
Shallow-water catch-and-release shark fishing is an enjoyable alternative on days the reef is just too sporty for your boat to handle, while still affording you the opportunity to catch trophy fish in a near-shore environment.
SeaSquared Charters Marathon Florida Keys 305-743-5305
Capt. Chris Johnson is a member of the Yamaha National Fishing Team and specializes in offshore, sailfish, reef/wreck, gulf/bay, shark and tarpon fishing. He and his wife, Christy, own and operate SeaSquared Charters out of Porky’s Bayside Restaurant and Marina in Marathon. You can reach them at 305-743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.