As the weather settles into a winter seasonal pattern of sunny and warm with occasional mild cool fronts, the fishing becomes as predictable as fishing can.
This past week, the sailfishing has been best in the waters from Tennessee light east through Islamorada, where there is an abundance of ballyhoo to hold the fish in the area.
The little bill baits have been scarce in the Marathon region. However, what we lack in sailfish action, we’re making up with excellent king mackerel fishing, with dolphin and blackfin tuna added to the mix.
Kingfish and Blackfin Tuna
Most of the king mackerel are being found on the deeper edge of the reef out to about 150 feet. Some are being taken in Hawk Channel and the outside patches as well, but the most consistent catches are coming from deeper water.
The kings are averaging 8 to 10 pounds with some larger, 20- to 25-pound fish spicing the catches. Most anglers are having success by throwing live pilchards, although live blue runners will also do the trick. If you are not a live bait angler, use bucktails. Either way, be sure to add a small trace of wire to combat bite offs.
Amberjack and Mutton Snapper
There are plenty of amberjack and mutton snapper on the wrecks. The AJ’s are in the 25- to 40-pound class and the muttons are going 10 to 12 pounds.
Look for today’s full moon to ignite the wahoo bite on and around the same wrecks and deep-water areas. Trolling high speed plugs or rigged ballyhoo on a planer should produce some quality ‘hoos for you.
Snapper and Hogfish
Snapper fishing on the reef remains a go-to with a bounty of mangroves and yellowtails there for harvesting. Bonus hogfish are also making their way into the coolers. On the reef line, anglers are catching 5- to 8-pound mutton snapper. Most are being taken on gear intended for the mangroves and yellowtails.
However, if you would like to target the muttons and achieve a higher hook-up to landing ratio, I suggest you upgrade your tackle to 15- to 20-pound with a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 2/0 to a 4/0 live bait hook. Try drifting a large bait, such as a ballyhoo or a whole sardine, back in your slick.
If you find yourself getting bit off by the variety of mackerel in the area, add a 6-inch trace of light wire to your rig. You will hook up the macks and still have a chance at the muttons.
Wide Variety on the Channel Humps
The channel humps and inside patches are providing loads of good eating species, including all the snapper varieties, hogfish, porgy, Florida pompano and even the occasional sheepshead. I recommend using a 3/8- to ½-ounce jig head with a live shrimp to attract these hump dwellers.
Bayside, the Spanish mackerel bite is still red hot with all the fish you can handle. In the Middle Keys, the action has been in the waters 6 to 10 miles from shore.
Should you have the GPS coordinates to a wreck, you will also pick up mangrove snapper. These have been typically been in the 14-inch bracket. They make for some fine dining to go along with your smoked Spanish mackerel appetizer.
Large king mackerel are showing up to feed on the Spanish mackerel that have been hooked. My suggestion is to rig a two-hook stinger rig with a small Spanish mackerel and float it under a balloon or fish it from a kite. This should draw a quick response from the kings roaming the area.
The SeaSquared spent the week in pursuit of good-eating fish for our clients.
Mike and Mary Hughes escaped the Minnesota winter for a little rest and relaxation at Gulfview Waterfront Resort in the Grassy Key section of Marathon.
They were well accustomed to lake fishing back home but had no idea what the waters of the Florida Keys have to offer. In a half day charter I took them to the reef and to some spots in Hawk Channel. The pair came back to the dock with a load of nice size mangrove, mutton, yellowtail and lane snapper, delicious hogfish and porgy. They also caught three keeper size grouper, which were released.
Bridget and Ryan Kilburg, from Sabula Iowa, chose the Florida Keys for their long overdue honeymoon, and they’re sure glad they did!
Among all sorts of Keys activities, they included a half day fishing with me on the SeaSquared. I took them to the humps in Hawk Channel to target snapper. The couple caught every variety of grouper – red, black, gag, even Nassau – all of which were released due to the closed season. They did bring a bounty of mangrove, lane and yellowtail snapper back to the dock along with a bonus delicious hogfish.