During our summer months, the Florida Keys can be a bit warm…well actually, just down right hot. The hot summer days can be avoided by fishing at night, without the sun baking you like a roast.
You have many options to choose from, but my favorite is the incredible mangrove snapper bite. During the summer, mangrove snappers congregate out on the reef to spawn and this triggers the need to feed. You can break out the light rods for this style of fishing and make it a little more sporting.
When looking for a good area, it is important to find a nice piece of structure, whether it is in 18 feet or 60 feet of water. What you are also looking for is a nice flat spot where you will park the boat with the current going towards your structure. When you start fishing you will want to fish the bottom with a knocker rig. This rig is quite simple; I like to use a piece of 40 pound fluorocarbon leader which I tie to my main line with a double reinforced uni-knot. The reason I use fluorocarbon leader is not fort its vanishing properties, but for its abrasion resistance. I will slide enough lead on the leader for the amount of current that you have at that moment. Then I tie an offset 3/0 long shanked hook. The offset helps with your hook up ratio, and the long shank makes it easier to remove the hook later.
You don’t need a lot of chum for this style of fishing, just enough to keep a slick going. As the night progresses, you will start to notice the snappers will come off of the bottom. When they do this, I will take off the lead and just free-line my bait. You will also notice that there are plenty of pilchards swimming around the boat so don’t forget to bring your cast net, because you can catch all the bait you need right there. I always bring enough bait just in case the pilchards aren’t very thick, but they usually are. Live bait works well, but I find the fresh cut pilchards are the best. Another good trick is to limit the amount of light emitting from your boat; because the snappers are drawn to the boat by the chum they do not like the light. This is also why we tend to fish for the snappers at night near the new moon, not the full moon. If you have no control of the intensity of the light you will want to cast your bait out into the dark beyond the light.
Night fishing can really spice up your vacation! As I can recall, one night we had lots of snappers already so we started to use live bait on a flat line with wire. We got into an impressive kingfish bite. Almost as soon as the bait hit the surface we were hooked up with 10-15 pound kingfish. On this really light tackle we had some good drag screamers. When you put chum in the water you never know what can show up. While out there we caught many small sharks (Atlantic Sharp Nose), moray eels, a few red grouper and what’s really neat is the worm hatch. If you look in the dark you can see little green luminescent creatures. Actually the worm doesn’t glow, but it releases a fluid that glows which actually is spewed out to distract predators. These worms are the food for the pilchards so sometimes when you cut up the pilchards you will see the stomach contents will glow…pretty neat, at least to me it is.
Now remember to only take what you can use and don’t be wasteful with our limited resources. Fishing with conservation will preserve our excellent fishery for kids and their kids so don’t be greedy and enjoy the fun.