Wintertime fishing is here, so get ready for some bent rods. The Florida Keys have so much to offer this time of the year. Fishing offshore you can expect to catch swordfish, dolphin, wahoo and blackfin tuna. As for the reef, yellowtails, muttons, groupers, cobia and kingfish will be the target for most anglers. Fishing for such an assortment of species it would be wise to bring many different kinds of baits and tackle. One of the greatest attributes of the Florida Keys is that our fishing areas overlap in which you can fish for multiple species at the same time.
The biggest draw to the Florida Keys is our world-renowned sailfish. Catching ten sailfish in a day can be easy on the right day. When we get the north winds the bait gets piled up on the edges of the reef and become targets of the hungry sailfish. Watching hundreds to thousands of ballyhoo jumping for their life as sailfish chase them for their morning snack always gets my blood flowing. Getting positioned to attack these bait sprays can be tough, but if you have a tower it makes it easier, find the bait showers, which will get you in the area. Once you are in the area look for the sailfish themselves as they chase and ball up the bait. Once you have a target, position the boat up wind so that your angler will have an easy throw to the sailfish. I prefer to belly-hook the baits so I can jerk them and cause them to swim down.
Make sure every bait you pitch out is healthy and lively. If you have pilchards for bait, I like to scoop ten to twenty of them over the side to get the sails eating, and when you pitch yours out it becomes an easy transaction. Sometimes the sailfish want only ballyhoo and I will hook them through their tail for a quick pitch bait or wrap the bill with wire keeping the hook exposed.
Last years sailfish season was out of this world, and I expect the same for this season. Since we release all of our sailfish, they are capable to spawn and continually increasing their population. One of my favorites is a quad, four sails hooked up and going in different directions. There is nothing more fun than watching a sailfish dance across the water as line screams from the reel. Sailfish are such an incredible animal, beautiful and magnificent, king of the Florida Straits.
While fishing the reef we tend to anchor up and chum. I prefer to use one bag with two blocks in the bag. The action of the two blocks of chum rubbing together creates a heavy flow. Some people prefer to have two separate bags with one block in each, which is fine, but what I have found if you want a heavy flow of chum you need two blocks in a bag at a time. Yellowtails have voracious appetite, and will become balled up on the surface for easy pickings. To help keep these fish up on top, you must have oats; yes regular rolled oats that you eat for breakfast. Thaw a block of chum overnight in a five gallon bucket, then mix with water and oats. Keep scooping this mixture in the water you will see the difference.
While chumming on the reef I love to drop down the heavy rods for grouper and muttons. I will always drop the heaviest rig first, that’s usually when the biggest one hits. I am rigging my 50 wide with 80-pound braid on a heavy, but flexible custom standup rod. Using 100-pound leader to Mustad #9174 8/0-9/0 and enough lead to hold the bottom. Don’t forget to sharpen your hooks, unless they are the laser sharpened hooks. I can recall one day out fishing when I had gotten lazy and didn’t sharpen one of my hooks and I missed three bites in a row, and as soon as I sharpened the hook, we had resumed catching again. Your guess is as good as mine, but I believe it really helps your hookup ratio. Fishing the reef with this combo will take good form and muscle. Back when I was learning from my mentor, he called this style of fishing stop-um or pop-um fishing. Grouper roam a few feet from holes, rusty metal, and ledges, so it is in your best interest to get him coming up. You can catch plenty of grouper on lighter tackle, but you are almost guaranteed to loose the big one. The biggest grouper I have ever caught on rod and reel is 450 pounds. That was a challenge with the rig I use, but eventually I got him coming to the surface. Goliath grouper are the largest but pound for pound the black grouper is king. I have gotten nice blacks up to 60 pounds, and without heavy tackle, I would never have seen fish so big.
While anchored up chumming go fly a kite. Kite fishing can be added to your day quite easily. When you’re yellowtaling you don’t want live bait flat lines, they will scare the schools of yellowtail snapper. So, using a kite you can take these baits and place them just out side of the yellowtail school, naturally making it a target for other predatory species. If you want to catch a big kingfish, wahoo, sailfish, or even cobia, I like to use speedo’s, goggle-eye’s, large pilchards or herring. If you cant catch those, a blue runner or 12” or better yellowtail will work for bait. Remember you are creating a feeding frenzy and causing a lot of commotion. Naturally, predators will circle as they look for an easy meal. By using the Kite you are keeping the lines out of the water and you will still be able to yellowtail fish and drop to the bottom for groupers and muttons.
Always remember to only keep what you can use and release everything unharmed, so we can keep this great fishery abundant as it is today. Please don’t forget to support our troops who keep our freedom safe so we can enjoy ishing on our open oceans.
Tags: blackfin tuna fishing, Capt. Dave Schugar, cobia fishing, dolphin fishing, Florida Keys Fishing, florida keys fishing charter, Florida Straits fishing, goliath grouper fishing, grouper fishing, kingfish fishing, Marathon fishing, mutton snapper fishing, pilchards, sailfish fishing, Sweet E'Nuf Charters, swordfish fishing, wahoo fishing, yellowtail snapper fishing