Marathon & Florida Keys Weekly Fishing Report – March 23, 2011 – Snapper extravaganza!

Marathon Florida Keys Weekly Fishing Report, Capt. Chris Johnson, SeaSquared Charters, March 23, 2011

It’s been a snapper extravaganza up and down the reef this week.

Snapper

The yellowtail snapper are averaging 18 to 20 inches, the mangroves are coming in up to a hefty six pounds, and the muttons are pushing 15 to 18 pounds.

All variety of frozen baits, such as silversides and pieces of ballyhoo, are working for the yellowtails and mangroves.  The muttons and mangroves are taking small live pilchards and larger chunks of ballyhoo drifted back in the slick.

2nd Annual Florida Keys Grouper Tournament

Generous amounts of grouper are being released on the reef.  This bodes well for the opening of grouper season and the 2nd Annual Florida Keys Grouper Tournament on May 1.  Sponsored by the 7 Mile Marina and Captain Hook’s Marina, the event boasts cash prizes for largest black, red and gag grouper in rod-and-reel and spearfish divisions.  Contact either marina for more information.

Amberjack

If you’ve been fishing the reef, you no doubt have experienced many of your snapper being grabbed by large amberjack on their way to your boat. 

If you see an AJ following one of your snapper, have a 20-pound pitch rod ready to go with a large pinfish or pilchard or a small blue runner.   This makes for some exciting action on light spin tackle and excellent fare for the smoker.

The amberjack are still making a strong showing on the wrecks, and the mutton snapper bite continues to improve with each passing week.  Pinfish and pilchards are the baits of choice.

Sailfish

I heard a few reports of sailfish tailing off Key West over the weekend.  This should pick up dramatically over the next couple of weeks.  Your go-to baits are ballyhoo and pilchards.

Dolphin

Offshore there is a dolphin bite developing with consistent catches of schoolie to gaffer size fish being reported almost every day.  We should see some slammers in the not too distant future.

Florida Bay

In Florida Bay, the mangrove snapper bite remains decent and there are still some Spanish mackerel to be had around the banks.  Further out on the wrecks, there are plenty of cobia.  Most are undersize, but they’re great sport on light tackle.

Florida Keys Shark Fishing Adventures

Shark fishing is excellent right now around the bridges and near the flats in Florida Bay. 

Bulls are the predominant species at the bridges as they hungrily await the tarpon, which are showing in ever-increasing numbers.  On the flats, it’s all the lemons and blacktips you could want.  Keep in mind, it is illegal to possess a lemon shark in Florida, so be sure to release them all.

Frankly, I recommend practicing 100% catch-and-release fishing for sharks using circle hooks.  It’s great sport for anglers of all ages and abilities.

The week’s best catches

On separate outings, I fished the reef with the Westergren clan from Minnesota and Jim and Billy Bird from Maryland.  Both trips produced large yellowtail and mangrove snapper, while Jim and Billy added a couple of 30- and 45-pound amberjack to their haul.

I fished in the Gulf and near the 7 Mile Bridge with the Olson family form Madison WI, the Avery family from Penfield NY and the Mathews family from Woodbury MN.  It was the first Keys trip and first saltwater fishing experience for many of them.  They all enjoyed dining on their catches of mangrove and yellowtail snapper and I’m smoking some Spanish mackerel for Jim Mathews.

I rounded out the week with a shark fishing adventure for the Vipond family from Ontario Canada.  We had a bunch of sharks circling the boat in the shallow bay waters, and the kids caught and released two lemons at about 4.5 and 6 feet in length.

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