Weekly Florida Keys Fishing Update from Capt. Dave Schugar and Sweet E'Nuf Charters
Posts Tagged ‘ballyhoo fishing’
Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
During the winter and spring we tend to get plenty of wind, and as the wind blows the seas pick up to heights where people just don’t go off shore to fish. Don’t let the wind and waves get you down, get out there, and just don’t go as far. There is plenty of inshore fishing around the Keys to fish. Up and down the Keys there are numerous areas which are protected from the wind. You can choose to fish the patch’s which are are only 3-4 miles out. During the winter the winds will generally be somewhat a northern direction so fishing on the south side of the island is where you want to be.
The patches are anywhere from 35-15 feet of water so you won’t need the big rigs, but 10-20 pound gear is what I use. The patches are a conglomerate of grass and reef all intertwined together. Since its shallow the grass can grow and the reef flourishes well in this shallow water too. When hurricanes hit, the shallow reefs do take a beating and I have seen in some areas where entire reefs patches have been destroyed by heavy seas. There are many baits I like to use on the patches and to have an assortment will improve your catch. I prefer to have ballyhoo, shrimp, pinfish and pilchards. I like the knocker rig as well for the patches, since there is rarely too much current to use a knocker rig it is very effective on the patches. I will use cut ballyhoo, pinfish, shrimp, and pilchards on this rig. Because we are fishing near or on the patch a leader rig will get hung up too often for my tastes and the knocker rig is designed for keeping your bait close to the bottom, allowing the fish to run with the bait and if you do get hung in the bottom it has a greater chance of freeing itself. If you get hung in the bottom with a knocker rig don’t pull hard, as you will only drive the hook further into the snag, or wedge the weight in the coral crevice. But instead, let the line go slack and jerk up violently. Do this repeatedly until snag comes free. It’s important to let the line go slack as this will change the direction of the pressure of the line when you jerk up. Do this for 2-4 minutes and at your last resort break it off.
When people think of the patches they think of hogfish, as this is where most of them live. The grass beds and coral patches contain their favorite food, crustaceans. Shrimps, little crabs are the diet of the hogfish, but they will eat fish sometimes. So when targeting these tasty critters you should use shrimp on a 1/8-1/4 oz. jig or the same size knocker rig. I will tend to choose patches that are close to the grass beds or even grass beds themselves. I will not put chum out if I am targeting them but I will pop the heads off the shrimp and put them into a chum bag and lower it down to the bottom on some cord with some weight. This will keep the small yellowtails and blue runners from converging on your chum slick as if you were to use frozen chum. If you use frozen chum and you toss out shrimp 50-1 you will catch anything but a hog fish as they will generally eat it before it hit the bottom, whereas hogfish are slow eaters and with all the other fish around they only get the scraps. So try this method without chum just the shrimp heads, if you want you can also just pitch the shrimp heads over the side but I find that keeping them in the bag they will last longer. Move from patch to patch until you find a good gathering of hogfish or jump in and look around and shoot them with a spear gun. But using this shrimp chum method really works.
Patches are loaded with fish but some are barren, so cruise around and look for schooling fish, this will indicate natural food is present and that there may be great fishing ahead. After you have chosen your location I like to spiral out with the cum bag in the water spreading out the chum as I said before, there is generally little current on the patches, so use the boat to spread out the chum before you anchor down. If you find out that there is no current, you may and try another spot. Fishing in front of the seven mile bridge, there is always water movement here, if there is no current there is always an influx of water from the tides here. I love mangrove fishing and my favorite bait for them is pilchards with pinfish coming in as a close second. Using a knocker rig I will hook the pilchards a little different than most. I hook the pilchard through the anus and come out right before throat. Just under the pectoral fin. I use a #3 long shank hook for this method, as it will not work with a short shank hook. This will not kill the bait if done right, and it will allow the bait to swim up off of the bottom in sight of the large mangroves. I generally allow the mangrove snappers to run with the bait for about 3-5 feet, this allows them get the hook in the mouth, as mangroves tend to grab and run with the bait before they take it all the way in their mouth. So, by allowing them to run with the bait for a few feet will help your hookup ratio, especially if you are using cut ballyhoo or live bait.
If the wind is blowing too hard to even get out on the patches, there is another untapped area people overlook. Here in Marathon there are plenty of along shore fishing areas. The bridge may not be for everyone, but Sisters Creek has snook, ladyfish, snappers, groupers, tarpon, and even redfish this time of the year. If you don’t have pilchards then shrimp will be the next best bait to use. You can chum, which I like to do and get a feeding frenzy going. Now since you are in a creek or canal there is always water movement so make sure you have sinkers up to 1 ½ oz. and in this area I like using a short leader rig with a swivel which keeps the bait away from the weight. Like the bridge, in certain areas the tide will spread out your chum. You can use pinfish here as well as long as they are really small or cut them in half if you can’t get those candy sized baits. When I look for places to fish I will look for turns in the creek or heavy over grown mangroves trees. Fish right up against the trees and if you do have pilchards throw some out as chum. I even catch mackerel in the creek so you just never know what there will biting that day but there are always mangroves and grouper. Don’t let your vacation or your day off go to waste, get out and go fishing even when the wind blows.
Friday, December 16th, 2011
I always thought I started fishing when I was six or so but a few years back my sisters put together 30 years of photos as a present for our folk’s 30th wedding anniversary. Amongst all the photos they found one of me in 1976 when I was two years old, fishing on the dock with my red Sterns lifejacket, sure did bring back some memories growing up on the Chesapeake Bay. Those days you could kick your kid out of the house, give him a bucket and fishing pole and let him go to the park or down the dock without someone calling child services on you. Ha, those days are over, but with all the crazies in the world now, I can see why they have made some of these rules for parents.
I moved to Florida in 1996 and attended Johnson & Whales University where I spent most of my spare time out on the head boats 5-7 days a week. I could never get enough fishing in. Most people were out drinking where I was addicted to my favorite activity on earth, Fishing. Going out on the head boats I got involved with a few different clicks of fisherman. I got to know all the captains and mates on the docks; they gave me special attention as they saw my love for fishing. I even got involved with a few commercial fishermen, they let me go fishing with them for free, and I thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Live baiting for kingfish at anchor or dropping with 4/0 senators for amberjacks, they were getting free labor and I was getting my addiction taken care of. Throughout the four years of Collage I became great friends with everyone on the dock. I finished up collage and started to work for Marriott as a banquet chef, in the processI lost the ability to go fishing. Working 60-70 hours a week I was jones’n to go fishing, but once a week just wasn’t enough. After a long look at my life I decided to quit being a chef and get into the fishing industry. I got a job on a charter boat at Haulover Marina where I used to get on the head boats at. My first job was on the oldest, beat up boat with six mounted chairs in the cockpit. The Shark was this leviathan’s name and the owner’s dad had built that boat in his backyard back in the ‘60s. I learned fishing from an old timer Capt. Roger Kohn, looking back , the ways we fish has not changed for 50 years and new ways are always being thought of. This was the beginning of my epic adventures on the open ocean. I have learned from some of the greatest captains in South Florida, from Capt. Bouncer Smith to Capt. Dennis Forgione in Miami to Capt. Roy Limback in Islamorada and Capt. Ted D’ Esposito, who was the one who really gave me my Florida Keys foundation. Since then I have been learning on the job trying new things and also sharing with my other captain friends, as we all tweak our techniques.
This past week I had a captain come down from the West Coast of Florida, I used to go withthis captain in Miami as a client back in my collage days. My buddy Kalvin and an old fishing buddy Bravid who used to fish the same boats up in Miami as I used too, came down here to do some bottom fishing. Now it was up to me to put them on some fish, no pressure, hahaha. We spent the early morning catching my favorite grouper bait, white grunts. It wasn’t long before we had 30 or so nice grunts. I then pulled my pinfish trap which was loaded will all sizes of pinfish. Now we were ready to take on the groupers. I started at one of my favorite grouper spots, which is a wreck in 104 feet of water. I had some really good anglers onboard so I figured we could get our limit pretty quickly. After ten minutes we had three hooked fish and only got one to the boat. We were using 80-130# test gear. We had hooked some really big ones and unfortunately they got in the rocks even with great anglers and stout gear. After breaking off another two fish the bite turned off, instead of going to another wreck I have learned to shift the boat and re-anchor on a different side of the wreck. When fish get spooked they usually will not go far, just in another quadrant of the wreck. Now that we have only moved 200 feet it wasn’t ten minutes before we had a double header, one turned out to be a goliath and the other got back to the wreck. Then we pulled the hooks on the goliath. It’s quite easy to tell when you get a goliath; its fight is strong, with slow tail kicks, unlike a black grouper that digs hard and fast. After losing 19 fish from them getting rocked up or eaten by sharks we left and went to a reef spot where we lost a few more blacks to sharks, but we did manage to get another one around 12 pounds.
It was almost noon by now, so I decided to start hitting the deeper wrecks for some muttons and amberjacks. First drop we had a double header amberjack and up in the front of the boat my buddy Kalvin and his bosses cousin were jigging diamond jigs and were catching genuine red snappers. This time of the year we have to release them. It’s astonishing how we get more regulations each year, even though we are catching more and more fish. You might think that if the stocks are increasing then we are over regulated. Just kind of makes sense to me. If we could get to a point where the stocks stay the same each year then I think the bureaucrats would shut us down completely. I have learned from biologists that are currently working on the grouper studies in the Gulf, and they say that each year is different because of the population of offspring that survived to grow up and become adults where then they have to run the gauntlet us fisherman put them through. So some years you will have better stocks than others. There is no way around that, but for the bureaucrats to not just look at landings, but talk to the fisherman, do interviews, and hire neutral parties to conduct non-bias studies.
After catching another grouper on the wrecks and more amberjacks than they wanted to catch we moved in close to the patches where I have been doing well on large mangrove snapper. It takes time sometimes to get the fish to gather behind the boat. Knowing your bottom you can figure out where the fish are going to hang out and where you can get them to come to you by chumming. When I fish the patches I like to fish on the sandy bottom on the up current, outside edge of the patch. I will also take a big circle with the chum bag around the patch to get the chum spread out. So when the current takes chum away from the boat, it starts out as a big cone, narrowing down to the back of your boat. This time of the year the patches are loaded with fish that are coming from deeper water looking for food (ballyhoo) which is piling up all over the reef. After cast netting a half of a five gallon bucket we rigged up our rods with jigs and knocker rigs and it wasn’t long before we started catching mangrove snappers. My Capt. buddy Kalvin and I used to fish 5-7 day a week together almost 12 years ago and it sure was nice getting to fish with him again. Bravid too, he was always good to fish every weekend or when his work allowed him to during the week. Getting to fish with old friends really makes fishing much more enjoyable, so catch up with an old friend, invite them out to go fishing and rekindle your old friendships and have a hoot, oh yeah don’t forget, catch some fish.
Sunday, January 16th, 2011
Wintertime has come early this year and as the weather cools the water, fish will venture towards the deeper, more stable water temperatures. February is a great month to fish down here in the Keys. The mutton snapper bite will be very stable throughout the winter on the wrecks and reefs. There are many ways way to fish for muttons, but I believe the most productive way is live bait. Muttons can be tricked to eat many different types of artificial lures and most small live baits. As with muttons, groupers and amberjacks will also be very abundant on the wrecks and reefs as well.
Fishing the reefs for muttons may be different than what you think. Most people think of reefs and they assume that the depth of water is from 25-100 feet. Well, they are mostly right. We also have reefs as far out as 200 feet. They generally have low relief and can be stacked with muttons. There are bands of reef that stretch east and west ranging in depths of 125-200 feet of water. I will scout areas where I have caught fish in the past, and what I am looking for is bait. Looking at your depth finder, look for what most of us call fuzzy bottom. This fuzzy bottom is scattered bait such as tomtates and other small grunts and porgies. This is the primary food source for the muttons while they are out on these reefs.
These reefs also have an abundant supply of small crustaceans, which muttons can’t resist. Occasionally I get snagged on these deep reefs, but by having a rig with a breakaway lead you will save most of your rig if you do encounter a snag. I will fish these areas where I mark bait. It takes a while sometimes until you find out where the fish are hanging out on the reef. One day they will be right on top, other days they will be in the sand, either inside or outside of the reef. Using a three-way swivel rig or swivel bead swivel method, drifting or slow trolling your bait back and forth on these deep reefs you will eventually find out where the fish are gathering. Once you find the fish, you will find them in similar locations on other reefs.
Wrecks are highly guarded so don’t bother asking any of the local charter boat captains. But keep your eye on your bottom finder when you are running in 100-300 feet, you just might find some. I have been given some of the numbers that I have and traded with other captains to accumulate about twenty wrecks in a thirty mile area. I have found about dozen on my own, by just looking at the bottom while traveling from spot to spot. A good way to find wrecks is to look for bait gathering on the surface or on your depth sounder. If you are marking lots of bait, there is a good chance there is wreck near by or a very healthy reef. There is a neat website that has wrecks so you can start with a few. This website is www.artificalreeflocator.
I mainly use live bait on the wrecks, but I do have a few friends who love using jigs for muttons and groupers. I do use butterfly jigs for the amberjacks when the kingfish are not swarming, because otherwise it can get quite expensive. Don’t over look dead bait; it can work great some days. I prefer split-tailed ballyhoo or bonita strips for my dead bait. When using dead bait I will hold my rod high and when I get a bite I will drop the tip and allow the mutton or grouper to inhale the bait especially on long baits such as ballyhoo and bonita strips. I make my leaders long, 15-20 feet to be exact. I use the long leaders for two reasons, one is to get the bait away from the bouncing lead, and the other is to ensure the mutton snapper gets the bait in his mouth before you start reeling. I always use at least 10oz of lead or more. I find that sash weights or bank sinker type weights tend to hold better than egg sinkers. Keeping the weight close to the bottom is usually sufficient, if the lead comes up about ten feet or so is ok too. If you find that your lead is having a hard time staying down, and already have over a pound on, try backing up to your line to keep your lead on the bottom. We call this a controlled drift, and on really windy days it is the only way to go. When the wind and current allow it, I can literally troll my bait across the bottom in search of a hungry mutton, and I always watch for my lead to hit the bottom every once in a while. You can also just drift and systematically cover the bottom until you find the muttons. Having a long leader allows the bait to stay close to the bottom where the muttons food is naturally found. I have caught muttons half way up while reeling in after a drift; so even high in the water column you can catch these tasty critters.
Fishing wrecks may require a little boat handling skills on windy days to ensure that you are able to keep your bait in the zone as long as you can. I find that most of my bites will occur fairly close to the wreck. But don’t pull up and start over until you get a tenth of a mile away from the wreck as muttons circle the wreck at different distances. Just like the deep reef, when you find an area near the wreck where you caught one, you should be able to hit that spot again and again. Some people like to anchor up on these wrecks, but that requires precise anchoring. It may take you a few times to get it right, but when the bite goes off, it best behooves you to be positioned right. Sometimes anchoring can diminish your chances of catching a lot, due to the fact that the fish are not located right behind your boat. Before anchoring I would drift around and try and find out where the fish are eating. Then after determining where the school is feeding, anchor up so that the spot is right behind the boat. When anchoring we use bombs, which are cut bait and soft chum mixed with sand. You can place this mixture in a paper bag and drop it to the bottom. When the bomb hits the bottom it explodes expelling chum and chunks, which the larger fish will snack on until they see your bait. There are some cons about the bombs, as they attract sharks and triggerfish. Sharks are bad because once they key on you, getting your fish to the surface in one piece can be almost impossible. Triggerfish will kill your bait or even remove it from your hook without you knowing it, so use the bombs only as a last ditch effort on a slow bite.
The tackle I use for mutton fishing is light, but effective. You will loose some big groupers but if you want to target muttons, but the lighter the better. I use 50-pound braid with a 10-20 foot shock leader of 60-pound. This shock leader has two jobs. It gives you a little stretch as the fish runs hard and it also allows my lead to slide along the mono and not the braid. I use the swivel bead swivel method, which acts like a three-way but doesn’t allow the fish to feel the lead and gives you great sensitivity for even the lightest of bites. By sliding a bead before the swivel it will not allow the lead to slide past your knot from the braid to mono. Then I slide on another bead before tying on my swivel, which my 15-20 foot leader is attached to. This extra bead keeps your lead swivel from catching on your knot to your swivel from the leader.
So to simplify this rig, slide a bead on, then slide a swivel on, slide another bead and tie another swivel to your shock leader. The swivel that slides I attach one foot of 30-pound where I attach my lead for the break away. I use 30-50 pound floro carbon for my leaders, but regular mono for the shock leader. The shock leader needs to stretch and mono stretches more than floro carbon.
As for my hooks, I prefer to use a circle hook, it allows for non targeted species to be released unharmed, and for my inexperienced anglers who have a hard time keeping the line taught at all times. The circle hooks also tend to catch fish in the corner of the mouth so that the fish’s teeth aren’t rubbing on your leader. They don’t have very sharp teeth but with enough pressure and time the muttons will have no problem severing through your leader if they are gut hooked.
I set my drags light because muttons don’t normally run for cover, but instead high tail it for open water. If there is a lot of structure where you are fishing you may want to tighten up your drag a bit and use some 50-pound floro. I like circle hooks, and the one I use is made by Mustad and are called Circle Demons. I generally use 8/0 and 9/0 in this style; to me it is like Velcro to an Afro if you ask me. I rarely miss bites and that is important when my clients are fishing. So get out there try something new, and take these tips for your next fishing trip down here in the Keys.
Sunday, April 4th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — What an enjoyable week compared to the frigid winter we have had! I have been booked all week and there is a lot of fish to be had almost everywhere out there.
Thanks to the East wind, the sails were piling down the pipeline and boats with upper stations had a ball sight fishing for those acrobatic speedsters. Even though they were being finicky, there were many sailfish to be had. With the ballyhoo hard to find, the choice of bait here in Marathon has been pilchards, which really is a better bait for sight fishing. I like to hook the bait in the belly to force the pilchard down which usually entices the sailfish to strike.
There has been an incredible color edge off of Marathon all week with lots of sailfish action on it. The bite had been better the further West you went. Some boats fished all the way down to American shoals (what a hike!), but in order to put up big numbers of fish that’s where you needed to be. Along with the sails, cobia and dolphin are also being caught along that edge.
The deeper edge further offshore that had the dolphin last week dried right up as if it was never there. I would keep looking for dolphin just beyond the color change and out as far as 400 feet just in case there is another push of fish this week.
The wrecks have been hit hard for the past few weeks and the fishing pressure has made a definite impact on the bite, which was out of this world. The wrecks are still producing amberjacks, muttons, and beautiful grouper, which we have been releasing. I caught a small genuine red snapper, which is not common in these parts except for a few deeper wrecks during certain times of the year.
The bait of choice on the mutton snapper bite has been live pinfish and any small grunts, which I was able to catch. The tomtates, my favorite bait has been hard to come by, but pinfish seem to be doing the job just fine.
Kingfish have been on most of the deeper wrecks from 130-200 feet of water. I was mainly catching them with deep-trolled ballyhoo. I heard that the reef also had kingfish prowling behind the yellowtails. When fishing for yellow tails, the kings will be hanging back waiting for the right time to strike.
The hump has been red hot. The tunas have been biting better in the afternoon verses the morning, but that may be due to the full moon we have had and the tunas must be feasting on the squid all night long. Jigging for the tunas has resulted in more and bigger fish, but when it becomes overcast the larger tunas will hit the trolled baits too.
The live baiter out there have been harassed by all the boat traffic out there, so if you see a boat using live bait, give him some room and respect that he can’t catch his fish when boats come barreling up behind them. While we were out offshore we did a little deep dropping and yielded some quality queen snappers. Most of the queens were up in the 12-18 pound class, which is some quality fish. Snowys and tilefish are abundant right now too in the 800-700 foot range.
I had a charter which took me out in the bay. I normally don’t fish out here but when the weather gets rough and my clients can’t take the big seas we head out there for some action packed fishing. They wanted to catch some goliaths and the bay didn’t let us down. We caught a couple in the 30 pound class and two big ones one was about 100 pounds and the other had to 350 pounds if it wasn’t 400 pounds. Most of the mackerel have left the bay but we did manage to get a dozen or so.
The bluefish on the other hand have been ransacking our baits in packs of 20-50 fish strong. It is pretty cool to se 20 or so fish following the one you have hooked. When this happens I like to throw some cut chunks right behind the hooked fish to get them really fired up before I pitch a spoon or a jig with a ballyhoo on it to get multiple hookups. We had out a shark bait for most of the day but we only had a couple of small ones short strike the bait.
Have a great week and I will see you out there. For those of you who haven’t signed the petition please sign it, we need everyone in on this one. Lets take back our rights to fish here come sign this petition!
Monday, March 29th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida — Tailing conditions have arrived and the sailfish are on the move. As many as 25 to 50 sailfish coming down sea in packs of 5 to 20 fish at a time, what a sight. If you’re looking to put some numbers up, this week was the week to do it. Unfortunately I was not sail fishing, my clients wanted food so I missed out on the great sail fishing. This has been the trend and having a tower sure makes it easy to find the fish, but the sails have been finicky, turning on baits but not eating from what I have been hearing. If you’re looking to try this for the first time, look for an edge from the reef line out to 200 feet and head to the west. Just keep heading west the hot spots have been from Big Pine Key to Sandy Key Light. Ballyhoo has been tough to get, but the pilchards are thick, so get in the skinny water and bait shouldn’t be a problem.
If sailfish isn’t your thing the dolphin have showed up in great numbers just not any size to them though. I have heard of a few gaffer size fish but for the most part the fish are running small from 28 inches to 15 inches. Lots of throwback dolphin being caught, and lots of fun to be had. We had caught over 50-60 fish with only 20 keepers one day and 15 keepers the next. The fish have been out on a current edge just inside of 500 feet of water. The water temperatures hare cool for them but it hasn’t seemed to influence their appetite. The fish are moving in small packs and the most fish we hooked at a time was 10 fish, but we never moved far before we hooked up more. It appears that the fish are loaded up on the edge, with most of them on the inside edge of the slower moving water. Their isn’t much of a color change but you will have no problem seeing the edge of the current, the rip sticks out like a sore thumb. I would recommend using the smallest ballyhoo as possible and any small feathers or chuggers. The fish are small so use smaller baits to help your hookup ratio.
The reef fishing is still kind of slow, but if you put your time in you can manage a good catch of snappers and there are plenty of groupers too. I had out one of the scientists that is currently doing the grouper research in the Gulf and he was telling me that they have been working hard to get the research done so they can make a decision on the grouper closer. He was telling me that the groupers have a 20% mortality when they are released. The way they figure this out is to catch a bunch of groupers and then put them back down in the water in a cage. Then they come back at different intervals to check how many groupers have died. The research still points to the decline of the gag groupers in the gulf but the red population is fine. Hopefully they will open the season on time, but I have serious doubts.
Way offshore the hump has been steady, with plenty of tunas and amberjacks. Live bait and jigging are the best methods for getting bigger fish and if you happen to get out there on an overcast day the bite has been even better. My favorite colors for the jigs are chartreuse and pink; I don’t own any other colors. Well that’s, a lie, I have some purple ones but I haven’t used them in quite some time now. The 5-7 oz. Stick jigs work the best. You don’t have to buy shimano but if you want to spend more money for the same results then go for it. I generally start my drift just before the rise on the hump, which is like 700 feet of water, and this usually gives me an idea where they are holding up that day. Sometimes I will head out to 800 feet of water, which is pretty far away from the hump and drop down really deep to get the bigger ones. If you try this on top of the hump your chances of hooking an amberjack on light tackle is sure to happen.
Deep dropping has been good for the brave fisherman who have been heading out to the 650’s and beyond. I did really well early this week and got a few snowys, tiles, rosefish, and barrels too. The queen snapper season is over for the most part, but there are a few stragglers left behind.
Good luck this week and keep safe.
Monday, February 8th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — As the North enters an ice age, we in the south can sit back and enjoy the slightly cooler weather while enjoying the phenomenal Keys fishing. We had a windy week with a couple of days where the wind died down, but unfortunately I was off for the nice days. I fished the wrecks all week and was able to produce a nice cooler of fish each of those days.
The wrecks have been hit or miss, but when you do find one that is producing, stick with it. That was the case this week, as I hit six to seven different wrecks to finally find one that was producing. Most of what we caught was large to medium amberjacks from 30-50 pounds. On a spinner with 50 pound braid the fight is unforgettable for my clients. Whether you call them bulldogs of the deep or reef donkeys, amberjacks are a formidable opponent on light gear. Using only 40-pound leader the drag on my rods are set fairly light to allow the fish to run, and that’s why I love to fish this way. Anyone can drop down heavy tackle on a conventional reel, but what most people love about catching big fish is to watch the line scream off the reel. I do lose fish because my tackle is lighter than most, but that’s fishing, you can’t catch them all, and if we did, fishing would be too predictable and maybe become a little boring. In between the jack attacks we took our fair share of some nice size muttons in the 12-15 pound range. A few mystery fish which we couldn’t stop, which I thought they might have been big grouper, because they went strait for the wreck and stopped running once they got there.
The reef has been hot, where most people are catching some pretty large mangroves, yellowtail, and muttons. I talked to my buddy Johnny who is an avid free diver and said the groupers are all over the place. John proceeded to tell me an astounding story about his latest dive. After shooting a couple of muttons, he shot another only to have it pull free from his spear when out of nowhere four groupers of all sizes came in to maul the wounded mutton. They watched in awe to the aggressive behavior these groupers were exhibiting. He told me it reminded him of a pride of lions attacking a gazelle on the African plains. To bad he didn’t have his video camera to document these obviously hungry groupers. Johnny had said that his whole group saw a hundred grouper though out the day which would mean that maybe the spawn is on. I am upset we can’t enjoy this fishery, mainly I can understand why they want to close the season, but completely shutting down the season is a little much. It would have been handled better if we had a restriction on how many we can keep during the spawn, but the total shut down is outrageous.
Sail fishing was pretty normal this week with many fish caught and released. The ballyhoo had disappeared due to the dirty water. Finding them on the ocean side was real a challenge, but when this happens venture out to the bay and chum along some of the banks, three miles out and or in front of the Seven Mile Bridge. Be careful back there, there are many banks and you don’t want to end up on the bank or destroying the grass growing on them either. The bite was sporadic throughout the day but the bite is determined by the time and the amount of bait in the area. So look for bait, and find a nice drop off and get yourself a sail today.
Offshore there have been some reports of dolphin and wahoo, so go back to the basics and pull some high speeders. Finding dolphin this time of year can be challenging, but you won’t have to go far, look for weed lines and rips inside of ten miles. I am sure the deep dropping was good, but I didn’t talk to anyone who went out in these conditions to test their boat and their sea legs. I can’t wait till I can get back out there, dinner is much better with queen snapper on the table verses mutton snapper, but mutton will do when there is no queen snapper to be had.
Get out when you can, but make sure you are to date on all the new fishing regulations, and make sure your boat is equipped with all the required safety equipment too, the Coast Guard will appreciate that. Till next week, happy hunting.
Monday, January 18th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — The mercury is climbing up and so are all the anglers. My phone has been ringing off the hook since the weather broke. Massive fish kills all over South Florida. Any fish that didn’t make it to deep water died from the temperature change. The water temperature got down to 53 degrees from 70 degrees. There is a temporary closure on most of the inshore species such as snook, tarpon, and bonefish, this means that you can’t take, possess or take out of the water. From what I was told, the Everglades got wiped out to the point, which the scientists think that all most every fish that didn’t leave died due to the cold temperatures. There was a weed line in Hawks Channel a couple of days ago, but no weeds, it was composed of all the dead fish and it stretched as far as I could see. The Keys fishing charters are dependent on our resources and if people find out that there aren’t any fish left it could detrimental on our small economy down here. The inshore species have definitely taken a hit but they will return. Just about every year I hear about the red tide up the west coast of Florida and once it clears the fish return, so don’t worry everyone the shallow water fishing will return.
On another note the offshore fishing has been on fire. The reef, and beyond have plenty of fish to bide your time until the shallows heal. The sailfish bite went off this week with many captains getting double digits or at least catching a few. The bite has been better up to the east from Tennessee to the west end of Long Key bridge and east of Sombrero light about two miles. Lots of spraying fish, so those of you with towers take advantage of it, but the rest of us the slow trolling with ballyhoo has been deadly as well. Big kings and wahoo have also been good, so when live baiting use four to six inches of #5 wire in front of your hook. Don’t worry about the sailfish seeing it, they won’t. I use an Albright knot from my leader to the wire but if you don’t know how just use a 50-pound swivel. There has been a few big blackfin tuna and one yellowfin tuna from what I heard from a friend. My friend Jay who runs the Sea Scape hotel got himself a nice yellowfin while trolling the edge so you just never what might pop up. This is why fishing can be so much fun, you just never know what’s going to bite. Put some live bait and you can’t go wrong.
I have been wreck fishing this week in between the eight footers, which can get dicey when you’re backing up into the sea, but we pulled off nice loads of muttons and amberjacks. I found that most of our mutton bites came from split-tailed ballyhoo laid on the bottom where as the AJ’s just wouldn’t leave the live bait alone. Bait was really tough to get, even the pinfish were hard to get. Any spot shallower than 25 feet of water was barren and even out deep the bait was still scarce. We were able to get enough bait for the day after about 2 hours of hunting. When this happens I stay out longer to keep the smiles on my clients faces. Working for all the different Captains and boat owners over the years got me thinking. They always got upset with me when I came in late, so now that I own my own boat, I stay out, as long I want.
Good luck everyone and play safe.
Monday, January 11th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — With all the bad weather we had to pick the right days to get out this week. I did manage to get out and find some quality fish. When the wind blows or it’s just too cold to go fishing you can use this time wisely and go over all your safety equipment. Having the operational emergency equipment is important no matter who you are. Even if you never need them, always check your fire extinguishers to make sure they are fully charged and check out your first aid kit to make sure that everything is good and not moldy. We have a problem with mold down here from the humidity and even if you never opened it could be ruined. Most of you already know that your flares have an expiration date so check them and if they are expired keep them onboard and get some new ones. Even though they are expired it couldn’t hurt to have a few extra. They might be out-dated but they will most likely work.
We went sail fishing in the beginning of the week and it wasn’t great but we did catch two fish. Fishing for sails can be a waiting game sometimes and if you are impatient you can miss out, but sometimes making a move can also turn your day around. Sometimes it can be a coin toss, but what I look for is an outcropped piece of reef when I set up for sails. The bait holds up on the shallow patches and will get pushed out by the tide and wind, game fish such as sailfish will gather in these areas. So look on your chart for areas with really shallow water near the drop off. Before you set up, look around, ask yourself a few questions such as; is there any bait around, is there a color change in the area, and is there a temperature change in the area. If you can say yes to at least one of these questions, fish the area and see what happens.
Before the weather broke on Friday I mutton fished two days in all this wind and we caught some choice fish. We didn’t set the world on fire but we were able to put a nice catch of muttons together with numerous amberjacks. I was able to keep my clients with bent rods and smiles on their faces. Live bait was also the key. I like to drop a live pinfish or grunt and a split-tailed ballyhoo to keep them honest. You just never know what they will eat but when they choose one of the two I will drop the same bait on both rods next time. But in this case the live bait was working while the dead bait just didn’t seem to get noticed. Most of the muttons were from 12-15 pounds and the amberjacks were from 20-30 pounds with a few small ones around 10 pounds. The AJ’s were biting on every wreck, but the 140-180 foot wrecks is where we caught the muttons. We also caught some muttons on live bottom in 140-165 feet too.
Finally we got a break from the wind on Friday, so we went offshore to do some tuna fishing, deep dropping, and sword fishing. The tuna bite was hot, but the fish were only a few pounds. I kept a few for bait and we went to my queen spot down to the west and the bite was on. We dropped five times and caught fish every drop. We ended up with two queens around fifteen pounds and two around ten pounds. We also dragged up a big amberjack, which we released unharmed to fight again. Four big queens were enough and the day was getting late so we headed further west to drop for swords. We had a really long first drift and no bite so we started to bring up the bait when all of a sudden we got a bite a couple hundred feet off the bottom. We stopped the retrieval of the bait and slowly dropped the bait down so to put slack in the leader and it was just enough to allow the sword to eat the bait. Hooked up, we ended up landing a 100 pounder, not a big one but it was getting late so we bagged the fish and headed home. What a cooler, four jumbo queens, and a decent sword to boot.
Good luck this week and wear layers to keep warm.
Monday, January 4th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — Brrrrrrr, it is just down right cold outside. Global warming, what? Fishing this week was a bit off for the weather we have been having, but it might be caused by the Gulf Stream being so far offshore. Most of the week the Gulf Stream has been around 20-26 miles offshore which puts a big gap between it and the edge of the reef. The green water, which has had little to no current, has pushed all the way out to the beginning edge of the continental shelf. There has been bait all the way out to the blue water, but as soon as you enter the blue water the water temperature jumps up from 74 degrees to 77.5 degrees.
Sail fishing has suffered as did most of the offshore species, but I did find a couple fish each day while fishing in tight to the edge of the reef. The grass has made it hard to troll, but trying to find fish in the shallows is really tough because of the milky water conditions. We found some nice big kings while slow trolling for sails with a deep bait. The ballyhoo are hoarding around the shallow banks on the Oceanside. Catching plenty of bait has not been the problem. I have talked to many captains this week and it seems to be a consensus, the sail fishing is slow, and it won’t get better unless the current comes back.
I ventured out to the deep water this week once to deep drop some, and we did very well with the groceries. We got plenty of queen snappers, barrels, and got one snowy grouper. The tunas at the hump are abundant and small, but if you get way out in front of the hump and drop your jig down 90 seconds you have a better chance of getting a larger tuna from 10-20 pounds. Once you get closer to the hump the small tunas are to ferocious to even get a jig far enough down to where the bigger fish might be. The bait of choice for the queen snapper was tuna, but the barrels only eat squid. When dropping down for snowy grouper use big baits and squid to entice these numerous and tasty fish to bite. There is talk about the closure of these deepwater species, but they have no real data, if they talked to us charter fisherman and the commercial fisherman they would see that there is no need to shut down all of the fishing in the deep reefs from 300-out. They shut down a 25 square mile last year and we all had no problems with that, but I guess it wasn’t enough for them because now they are threatening to shut all the deep water off so that no one can use this resource which is not in any danger of being over fished. They shut the commercial fishing of snowy groupers to 150 pounds. These guys which fish for these fish have no problem catching there limit, and didn’t have a problem catching their limit when they could catch 600 pounds. Something is very fishy, no fishery is safe, someone is behind in ruining the Florida Keys and they are hurting us with all this talk about shutting down all fishing down here. Make limits, we will abide by them; don’t shut down a fishery especially when you don’t have the data. I recommend that everyone join the RFA; this is an organization, which is fighting for our fishing rights while preserving the fish we are so eager to catch and eat.
If the seas got you down, don’t let it. You don’t have to go far to have some fun and catch plenty of fish. This past week the mackerel and snappers have been everywhere just inside of hawks channel and you can make a whole day of catching. Putting a large bait on the bottom while your chumming in this area can produce great results from goliaths to sharks. Remember hawks channel is like a super highway for fish, it is like those guys trying to sell flowers at the off ramps, use the bumps and lumps like the flower sellers to catch your fish.
Good luck and be safe.
Monday, December 14th, 2009
MARATHON, Florida Keys — Hogfish, it’s what’s for dinner. Hogfish has to be one of the best fish we have down here in the Keys and they are all over the place right now. I have been taking my friends out to the patches and we have been shooting our dinner. Hogfish have to be the easiest fish to shoot; they turn sideways to make it easier to shoot them when confronted. Not very smart for as fish go, but it sure is nice of them. You can find hogfish on reefs, and grass beds. I usually will find them on the outskirts of the patches. These fish can change colors in an instant to blend into the bottom. It is really neat to see these fish change colors and they really do blend in amazingly. Most of the hogfish you will find in shallow water, but if you dive in the deeper reefs they can be abundant out there too. I will usually find bigger ones out in the deeper water, some up to five pounds or better. I donated the fish to the Monkey for a fish fry this week. My buddy Bobby Butler made some fried hogfish poorboys that were out of this world. He took the fillets and marinated them for a couple of hours in Coco Lopez, which is sweetened, condensed coconut milk. Then he breaded them with rice krispies and put coleslaw on a sub roll and man it was amazing. Thanks Bobby.
The sailfish action was a little slow this week but there was some great wahoo fishing. High speed trolling has been working well from 150-250 feet of water. Most people were using drails and plastics, but I talked to one of my friends up the road a bit and they were having some great luck with live speedos. They caught lots of kingfish and five wahoo from 20-40 pounds. One of my friends caught a few wahoo this week using ballyhoo with cone lures in front. The sailfish action was slow but a couple of days they turned on pretty good in the shallows. Following the bait sprays was the key this week. Finding the frigates diving was also a good indication of some action too. Live bait has been pretty easy to come by right now. There are lots of cigars here in Marathon, which is unusual, and plenty of pilchards on the flats from 79th street up to Valhalla. The ballyhoo can be found just about everywhere, but if you want the green backs they are back in the bay and they are all over the place as well.
The reef is still on fire with yellowtail, jacks, kings, muttons and groupers. Anchoring up can be so much fun this time of year. You can do all sorts of fishing while you’re anchored up on your yellowtail spot. I like to yellowtail fish first and while we are catching yellowtails I put down a couple of bottom rods with one large bait for grouper and a small bait for muttons. After we have enough yellowtails I will switch over and king fish either from a kite or just flat lining from the back of the boat. Big kings will circle your yellowtails and putting one up in the kite off the side of the boat will usually yield some big smoker kings. Most people don’t like to eat kingfish, but I will tell you from my own personal experience, they make great smoked fish dip. Besides, they really are a great sport fish, which is usually overlooked because of their poor food quality. I have caught many kingfish over 50 pounds and they are like fighting a large wahoo. They will make blistering runs and my favorite part is when they strike the bait on the surface, either exploding on the bait or coming fifteen feet out of the water with the bait in their mouth. Wintertime fishing is one of my favorite times of the year because you just never know what you’re going to get. You could catch dolphin, sailfish, wahoo, tuna, white marlin, grouper, muttons, yellowtail and other assorted snappers. There are sharks, and barracudas, and numerous kinds of jacks, which will test your will and your tackle.
Way out has been a virtually barren except for some sword fishing off the shelf and lots of big tuna at the humps. The tunas have been thick but so are the sharks. You just never know when the sharks will be bad, but most days this time of the year they seem to swarm the humps and the reefs. We dove the other day and the first three spots had a big bull shark swimming on them. We only stayed in those areas for a short time, because they bull sharks were starting to investigate us, so not to tempt fate we moved. The jigs and live bait were the only way to get the big tunas to bite. If you trolled you only caught bait size tunas. Fishing further in front of the hump can help keep the sharks from getting your tuna, but you really are at their mercy.
Good luck, it looks like the rain missed us this week, and I looking forward to the next front, hopefully it will spark up the sailfish bite.