Weekly Florida Keys Fishing Update from Capt. Dave Schugar and Sweet E'Nuf Charters
Posts Tagged ‘Florida Keys Fishing’
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
A recent tragedy in the Florida Keys has opted me to write this article this month. A family of seven tragically sinks their boat and their grandmother pays the ultimate price. Almost all accidents can be avoided; it’s the preparation and knowledge of the water that prevents accidents on the water from happening. Accidents may still happen when you do everything right, but having the right gear that’s accessible can save your life in a freak of nature from a storm or something unforeseen.
When preparing their boat for departure, many overlook the condition and the accessibility of their safety gear. People tend to never check pumps and systems until they need them, and in some cases it could cost you your life. I hope after reading this article you will become more aware of what kind of condition your boat is really in. I, like most others, love to go fishing and it don’t matter if it’s flat calm or 10 foot seas; we love the ocean and the glory of catching the big one. It is the owners or captains responsibility to do a once over of the entire boat before departure and ultimately his or hers duty as a captain to ensure the safety of the people on board.
Physical inspections of your safety gear is a must. Check the expiration dates on flares, make sure your fire extinguishers are charged, and check the condition of your life jackets…all simple things you can do every month to insure that when the time comes you are prepared.
Uncharged fire extinguishers can be given to your local fire department for disposal and new ones can be picked up at any good boating retailer. Fire extinguishers should be kept in accessible places and just because the Coast Guard mandates a certain kind and how many it is wise to have one extra or a bigger fire extinguishers than it is required.
Life jackets are always overlooked, stored away and never checked because you put them there yourself a long time ago. Take time to pull them out, inspect them for tears, mold or some sort of defect, check the lights to be sure they work and replace any that are questionable (not just the ones that are not working).
Many people have flares, but have never used them before. Take the time to learn how to use them properly. The coast guard offers a class once a year to explain and show boaters how to use flares and other important safty equipment. Keep the out-of-date flare with the good ones you never know when you might need to have extra flares. Everyone onboard needs to know how to use them properly. When practicing with the flares contact your Coast Guard Station and inform them that you will be firing off the white flare which is the only one you can practice with. You can also contact the Coast guard for courses on how to use the emergency signaling equipment; usually it will be the Coast Guard Auxiliary who will help you out.
Your boat systems can be the leading cause of why you need to use your emergency equipment. Before any trip out on the water you should always check your bilge pumps to ensure they are working properly. Most boats have a manual switch that activates your bilge pumps and is a good way of inspecting your pump, but it does not indicate if your float switch is working properly. As such, I would recommend that you go into your bilge and lift up on your bilge pump float switch to make sure that it activates the pump as well with the manual switch on your dashboard. Now that you are in your bilge, look for debris in your bilge that could impede the bilge pump or get caught inside of it where it could cause a failure of this pump down the road. This is also a good time to check all hose clamps on all hoses to make sure that none are rusted through. Replace any that are questionable. Any hoses below the water line should have two hose clamps, giving you a backup just in case one fails. Any cracked hoses are potential for failure so they should also be repaired before you take your boat out again. Also look for any wires that have been worn through by the natural vibrations of a boat in use. Exposed wires can become a fire hazard; fires are by far the worst emergency that you ever could encounter on a boat.
Understanding your boat could save your life. Every boat has its limits, set by the manufacturer and regulated by the Coast Guard either by weight capacity or the amount of people allowed on the vessel. Exceeding these limits can be catastrophic. Never overload your boat and never go out in weather that your boat can’t handle. Not all boats are created equal; some perform great in heavy seas where others flounder to stay afloat. Knowing your boats capabilities is incredibly important. Learning your boat’s sea capability will take time, in some cases years depending how many years you have been a boater or how often you are out on the water.
When tackling big seas, it takes all of your attention to be safe, knowing how to take the waves as they come can the most important lesson learned on a boat, as most boaters we have all gotten caught in a storm where seas were bigger than we would have liked. But knowing how to tackle big waves in an emergency situation will save you and your boat. There are plenty of boater safety and boat handling classes out there for you to learn how to operate a boat safely and successfully when the situation arises. Don’t take unnecessary risks, it’s not just your life you are endangering it could be your whole family. Play safe and be responsible, know your boat and what your limitations are. Be safe and enjoy the ocean as it is our pearl.
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
I had some old friends I met last year — David and his two sons — out for a day of sailfishing. Well, it turned into a day of dolphin, which they didn’t mind. Sometimes you take what you can get. The ocean offers its bounty you don’t get to pick sometimes.
Earlier in the week we did ok with two doubles on one day, but ended up pulling the hooks on one of the sails on each of the doubles, so 2-4 for a half day. Not to shabby for a half day charter with my clients Tom Chambers on the Cara Mia.
There has been great dolphin fishing since May, which is a little unusual, but not unheard of. I kept them busy when we got into the dolphin by keeping up with the baits and getting them up into the riggers. At times we had triple headers on! The boys’ arms were a little tired but they managed to keep up with the fish. It was a little rough in the morning, but it laid down nicely by noon and was one of the most beautiful days this past month.
Tomorrow is looking good as well, as we go bottom fishing for some muttons and amberjacks.
Thursday, November 10th, 2011
The cool weather is upon us now, which gives us a new perspective on fishing down in the Florida Keys. This cooler weather triggers pelagic migrations. First the bait makes its move and the predators are soon to follow. Our fishing will change from heading way offshore to hanging closer to reef’s edge.
Sailfish, kingfish and wahoo are some of the predators that we will be targeting. These predators will be hanging close to the reef’s edge where batfish congregate. The optimal winds will be a north-easterly direction bucking the east bound current and at times this will push the bait off the edge of the reef where the predators are waiting. It is a small area between the reef and 200 feet of water where the majority of these fish will be roaming for food.
Looking for birds and color changes will be your first tactic in finding these fish. Finding clean water is the key, with the increasing winds from the cold fronts the water can get stirred up near shore which gets pushed offshore by the wind, so this is where your color changes are going to be found. Where the dirty inshore water meets the gulfstream or a splinter of it, there will be color change and a current edge. Most of the time the fish will be in the cleaner water, but not always, so crossing over may be an option too.
Fishing for sailfish, you will want to have nice fresh caught bait, slow-trolled or flown in the kite. Troll down these edges or set up the kites so that your baits are in the clear or blue side of the edge will generate most of your bites. When looking down these edges look at your chart, you will notice outcroppings of the reef will push out the color change or current edge; these slight changes in direction of the current will congregate bait and in turn concentrate the sailfish. Since most of the sailfish are on the move as they head down sea looking for food, they will hold up in these areas where the bait is thick and you will notice that they may even school up as they feed in these places along the reef.
Now, if trolling or flying the kite isn’t your cup of tea you can also chase bait showers, which can be very productive if the fish are actively feeding in the shallows. Having a tower is a great advantage when doing this but not necessary. Run up and down the inside of the reef from 20-40 feet of water while looking for diving birds and showering bait. It’s pretty cut and dry: find the bait showers and cast your bait into the shower or where the shower was. Free spool your line till something grabs it and get to reeling. This is really a fast-paced style of fishing and being able to cast is a must. You may have to cast many times before you get a taker, but once you get one hooked up it can be possible to get a few more hooked up, because generally when the bait showers happen, it’s because of many fish chasing them.
The way you can tell if it’s more than one fish chasing baits is if the showers go into different directions, as a few fish will split the main school into a few bait showers going in different directions. No matter what you like to do, having fresh caught bait is the key. Nice, lively baits trigger the bite, so when catching your bait, handle them with care and don’t over crowd your live well as that’s not good either.
Yeah baby, wahoo is one of the best fighting fish, and tasty too; a very sought after game fish for its blistering speed and its table quality. Wahoo like large baits for their size, so fishing with live bait from one to two pounds isn’t out of the question. Speedos and tinker mackerel are the very best bait for them, but blue runners, goggle eyes, and ballyhoo work well too for a secondary bait if you can’t get the choice bait.
Basically, fishing over deep wrecks and along weedlines and current edges is your best bet to find these elusive critters. Most people use live bait if they want to be sporty with them, but if you just want to catch some your best bet is high speed trolling at 15 knots. Yep, 15 knots…it’s fast, but not too fast for these game fish. Wahoo have been clocked at 65 mph, so 15 kts is like a fast walk for them. Wahoo, like most of the mackerel family, are sight feeders and react to action. So fast-moving baits catch their attention and trigger their need to feed.
Since these fish are toothy, you need wire to catch them, but I have caught plenty on mono dolphin rigs and even light 30# mono sailfish rigs too. It can be done, but to improve your chances, #5 wire is minimal for them on live bait and I like 200# seven strand cable for the high speed lures. When using the high speed lures, color can make a difference so put out many different colors and find out what they are feeding on and then you can switch to have most lures of the color that caught the first few fish. Generally, dark colors like red and black, black and purple are always good, but pink and chartreuse can also be deadly. For your tackle, I suggest at least 50# gear to stand up to the drag of the lure and weight at 15 kts.
Just a trash fish for some, but for most of us, it’s a great game fish and fun fish with their big runs and explosive bites and up to 15 foot leaps in the air. Kingfish have been under-rated as a great game fish here because they are nucence when we are trying to target other species. But when you get into an area where you are getting cut off, put some wire on…they are blast to catch, even if they aren’t so great to eat.
There are many ways to catch kings: trolling with lures, live and dead bait, jigging and chumming them up. All work great, but my favorite way is chumming or chunking them up. I will usually find them near small shallow wrecks in 150-100 feet of water, as larger wreck usually have barracudas on them and the kings don’t like being stalked by ‘cudas, so they will stay clear of those large wrecks which hold large amounts of barracudas. Early in the morning, I like to net up 500 pilchards for the live well and then another 500 which I kill and put in my cooler for chunking. I will anchor up in a good spot for kings and start chunking…but don’t cut too many up as you don’t want to feed them but just spark their interest. I like to cut two pilchards into 2 or 3 pieces and throw them over every few minutes.
I will belly-hook two baits on the surface and put one down on a short leader rig with a 2 oz. weight to get it down 60 feet or so. Eventually I will start throwing five live baits at a time with the chunks and it won’t take long for the kings to start busting the live bait up on the surface. It is a show, little explosions blowing up all around the boat as the poor pilchards run for their life. Once they start hitting the freebees you should start getting hit on your top and bottom baits. Once we get them all fired up, I will start casting to the boils and explosions and its only seconds before you get a bite, and it is unmistakeble as they scream line off the reel. It’s a blast to use 12-15 pound test, but if you do use such light tackle make sure you got some line capacity because some of these bigger kings will strip 100 yards of line off on their first run. These fish will test your gear and terminal tackle. I you are getting 20-40 pounders you will need to bump up the wire to #6 from #5 because the bigger kings eat through smaller wire leaders with ease.
With the water cooling off and the weather, be sure to dress appropriately and bring some extra clothes so that you can enjoy this great time of the year to fish. Lots of layers is the key so as the day goes on you can shed layers as it gets warmer or add more as the sun goes down. Be comfortable while you fish and enjoy the Keys even if the locals won’t step outside because of the cold.
Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Hi everyone, sorry for the lack of reports, but I have been fishing every day and doing doubles and crushing the dolphin. Fishing in the Keys has been great offshore, and on certain days the reef fishing for yellowtails has been good too. The muttons are sporadically biting on the deeper wrecks from 160 to 180 feet of water.
The fishing I want to inform you all about is the dolphin bite, because it has been great. Even with a lack of 30-50 pounders, we have been filling the coolers with 10-15 pounders and of course our masses of schoolies. The fish are on the move, so you won’t whack 20-30 fish out of a school…they just won’t hang around the boat. I have been getting a couple here and there pretty much most of the day. A slow pick of some quality-sized fish. Fishing them on 15-20 pound spin tackle, my clients have had a ball this past month. All the fish have been under birds, moving towards the east and not more than seven birds…any more than that and it has been skipjack tuna. It was a little rough this week, but it didn’t seem to bother the fishing. We just got a little wet.
If you’re looking to do some bottom fishing, the night-time mangrove bite will be good once this moon gets a little smaller. The night-time bite seems best during the new moon and a week on either side of it. Mangrove snappers bite best on the darkest of nights, so plan that when you head out to fish for them. The grouper action has slowed down a bit during the daytime, but we have been getting a few good sized black grouper from 15-30 pounds.
Have a great weekend, and don’t forget to sign up for my E-Book and get a chance to be informed about some upcoming specials this September and October.
Thursday, July 14th, 2011
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.
Monday, May 2nd, 2011
Well May 1st was the opening day of the long waited grouper season. I was going to take a few friends out for a grouper digging party, but it got belayed due to a last minute charter. I was called by a returning client whose friend was entered in the Seven Mile Marina grouper tournament and their captain had come down with an illness which wouldn’t allow him to fish. My crew consisted of Dave, who owns a construction business down here, John and Gigi who owns DOT PALM, and one of their employees, Shawn, and his girlfriend. So at the last minute, we gathered all the necessary equipment and tackle and left the dock at 8:00am and headed out to get the best grouper bait there is, white grunts. Most people overlook these small pan fish whose notoriety was known for grits and grunts back in the day. They come equipped with a natural grouper call, when they become distressed.
After loading the live well with 30 or so grunts we headed out to a wreck and couldn’t get anchored due to the fact that we had a short anchor line and not enough chain on John’s boat. He said after this day he was going to get the enough chain and anchor line so this never happens again. Since we couldn’t get anchored there, we headed just inside the wreck on the edge of the reef and set up. It wasn’t 30 minutes before we had our first bite, and soon after that we had 14 and 16 pounder in the box. Two very nice black grouper, but not big enough to win the tournament. So we waited for the boat that was on the wreck to leave, and when he did, we anchored right into the structure to get hooked up. After a 10 minute wait, we had a big bite and missed it. But it came back, and we got a solid hook up and John fought the fish for 15 minutes before landing a 21 pound black grouper.
Still not satisfied with the size, we kept fishing. Shortly after that Shawn hooked a monster which we ended up losing when the line got caught on the dive ladder bracket. It was getting late but I knew there are some big ones still here so we waited for another bite and it wasn’t long…but about half way up it got eaten by a shark. Knowing that the sharks are here now, we weren’t going to get anymore to the boat so we left to hit our final spot.
It only took a few minutes at the new spot before we had another 12 pounder in the box. We got another big bite and fought this fish up but lost it due to unseen circumstances…another fish lost due to the bracket on the boat so it was getting late and the weather conditions were getting worse so we headed in and weighed the fish in. Knowing that it would be a miracle that we could hold first place, someone upstairs was looking out for us and it held, we took first place with a 21.7 pound black grouper. If we could have kept the big one on we would have been heroes, because that fish was well over 40 pounds. Since I have caught black upwards of 60 pounds, I’m guessing what we had on I would defiantly say it was 40+ pounder. You couldn’t have a fish story if the fish didn’t get away, but knowing that he is still down there I will be back to capture him on a later date.
Come on down, we got room still left in May, It will be my pleasure to show you a great time and catch some of these powerful bottom dwellers. Book your trip through the web site and act soon to ensure you can get a day of some of the best fishing in Florida.
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
Busy busy. Wow, can’t seem to get a break to write my reports. Sorry guys, I know a lot of you can’t get enough fishing and this is one of your fixes.
I have been dolphin fishing a lot. It has been ok, not great yet, but any week now though the big fish ought to start pouring through. Mostly what I have been catching are schoolies, and some gaffers. I haven’t seen many big schools, but we have been getting a few dozen decent fish, nothing we had to measure and plenty of filets for my clients. We have been tuna fishing too, having a ball jigging and even getting a few big ones in the 20 pound range. Unfortunately the bite isn’t all day, but after a good morning bite, we ended up finding a few schools of dolphin to round out the day.
On the reef it has been hot and cold. The big yellowtails have shown up in full force, but the sharks tend to eat half of what we hook. Some of the tails are in the 3-5 pound range, which is huge, because a normal yellowtail is about one to two pounds. If you have ever caught a five pound yellowtail, you know that’s a big fight. It is amazing how such a small fish fights so hard. Once they get big like this they tend to be hard to catch, but as the spawn is nearing they are starting to eat up the chum bag behind the boat. We have been catching lots of grouper, so I can’t wait to May first when we can keep them.
The permits have been biting really well at a few wrecks, and we smoked them one day catching 14 of them. The next day we caught five. We basically sight fish for them…we just wait till we see them and then cast a crab on a jig and whamo! You’re on. Most of the fish are from 10-15 pounds, but we did manage to catch one over twenty.
If you are waiting to book your trip for May, don’t wait too long, I am almost completely booked up, but I still have some room in June.
Thursday, March 10th, 2011
This week the dolphin showed up while were fishing the Leon Shell Tournament that gives money to Hospice, a very worthy cause. The sailfish have been slow but we were able to pull out fourth place. But the real story is about the little green fellers, dolphin season is officially open. All day long we were attacked by 6-10 pound dolphin, I only wish we weren’t in a tournament, otherwise we could have filled the cooler. Most of the fish were from 110 to 140 feet of water. Most of the day they attacked our live baits like a pack of piranhas.
After the tournament I took out a great family who had never been to the Keys before. Since the dolphin have been around we started with the troll and caught seven nice fish, mostly 10 pounders, but the bite slowed down as the day went on so we switched gears and hit the wrecks. The first drop we hooked a monster, I figured it was an amberjack, but when it came up, I was pleasantly surprised when it was a 20-pound mutton. On the very next drop we had a double header, but lost one shortly after it bit. To my surprise, another 20-pound mutton, we hit the jackpot. Jumbo muttons chewing for some first timers, I couldn’t have planned it any better.
The next drop we got another monster, but this time it was a 50 pound amberjack. Fishing with spinners amberjacks are a grand battle, long strong runs and dogging my clients the whole way up. They are truly a great Sport fish of the Florida Keys. These clients were having so much fun, as was I, when we pulled up another 20-pound mutton. After losing a huge fish we couldn’t stop, most likely a big black grouper we looked at the time and boy; the time flew by, only time for one more drop. Another double header, this time two amberjacks, one 35 pounds and another 50 pounder. What a wonderful day for a family’s first visit to the Keys, memories they will never forget.
The next day I had a sad day, a burial at sea, they always get me choked up, and I never even met the old timer. His last wish was to go fishing one last time and then have his ashes spread into the ocean. It was rough and his family was in good spirits, as we headed out to find some dolphin. It wasn’t long before we had the first fish on, maybe three minutes. It was a nice ten pound dolphin which had a hard time eating a trolled ballyhoo. I had to drop back three times, to finally get him hooked up. Shortly after that we caught another one and then it was like they were never there. I headed out to find some grass, but there was none, so I headed back in where we caught the other two fish along the color edge. We finally got another hit and it turned out to be a nice kingfish. It was rough and some of my clients were getting sick so we decided to head to coffins patch to do the service. On the way there we caught another kingfish. It was a slow day, but you can’t always catch a lot every trip. The service was moving, and with tears flowing, my throat got all tight, and I am glad it was a short service otherwise I would have been joining the rest of them sobbing. He sounded like a great man, from the stories they were remembering, and the fact that he raised his kids, and they felt that he did a wonderful job. It is always sad to see our loved ones go.
On the next day I had a guide trio on the 50 foot Bertram I have been running for a client I have had for over three years. We headed out and started the troll at the reefs edge. There was not much for conditions, but we trolled along and out of the corner of my eye I see a dolphin making a B-line to my right rigger. I yelled down from the tower and said,”Dolphin coming for the right rigger.” He slammed the bait and the line popped out of the rigger, but he wasn’t hooked. Dan Chambers dropped back the bait and the dolphin scarfed it up. After a brief battle on the trolling rod we boated the first fish, a 18 pound cow.
I headed out offshore after an hour with no more bites, and when we hit an area outside the thunderbolt in 250 feet of water we caught a small 6 pound black fin tuna. I kept trolling around in this area and boated many more tunas, as a squall line appeared to the north. It wasn’t long before we got hit with 50kt winds and a water spout of our port side. It got really rough in moments. It went from flat calm seas to 8 foot, six feet apart from each other. We called the trip early, but it had been a great day with a big dolphin and a cooler full of tunas. I am glad I was in that big boat instead of my 33 foot Hydro sport when the winds hit. I was in conditions like this before, and the rain stings like needles at that wind speed. It sure was nice to stay dry up in the flying bridge. The wind was blowing so hard it blew out the outrigger, snapping two cables and bending the outrigger. As soon as we hit the dock, the wind died as if it had never happened, freaky, freaky stuff.
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
This pas week we had a group of business owners who are clients of Auto Profit Masters that came to the Keys for a class and relaxation. What a great group of people from kids to grandparents I was able to find fish for them to catch.
The first day I took out Alan and his son, who fished me a couple of years ago. We headed out to the hump for a day of tuna fishing. When we arrived at the hump we saw an oasis of tuna. Tuna busting the water all over the place, jumping out of the water, terrorizing the bait on the surface. We caught tuna on the first drift and watching the tuna eat right behind the boat still gets my blood flowing. There were a few boats out there and they seemed to gravitate to my stern, causing them to scare the fish behind our boat to go down. To get the big tunas to eat behind the boat can take 100-300 freebees. We can only hold so many baits, so when another boat ruins our drift that’s just one less tuna we can catch. So when you are out at the hump be courteous, don’t troll or run your boat behind anyone, go in front of them so you don’t ruin their fishing.
After getting mugged by the other boats we started to jig the tunas and we were hooked up, mostly smaller ones than we were catching on the live bait. I had a game plan of jigging for a while until some of the boats to leave so we could live bait again. We caught lots of tuna on the jigs, and later in the afternoon we caught a bunch of 20-30 pounders on the live bait. I also dropped a bait down 400 feet to target amberjacks. The hump has some of the largest concentration of amberjacks which we were able to catch one over 50 pounds. What a great trip father and son, having the time of their lives catching and laughing, just a great time had for all.
On the next day I had out Brian and Kobi from Alaska, John and another Alan. Since I fished all last week for snappers, we decided to go out and find some for these guys. I went to one of my patches, which has been smoking hot all last week. We caught some, but it was a little slower than I had liked. We caught mangroves, mackerel, and yellowtail. They were on the smaller side, but they still taste good. We also caught about 15-20 small groupers, just about all the shallow water spices. We caught black, red, grasby, and red hind groupers. Most of them were small blacks around 18 inches long, but a good fight on light tackle. After catching 30 or so snappers we headed to some wrecks for some bigger fish. It was really slow, but I kept hitting different wrecks until we found one that was producing. It was a little weird, we would get bites on all the wrecks, but then after loosing a few the wrecks would shut down. This happens usually when there are predators around, but I think we just lost them in the wreck, which happens when we fish close to them. Finally we found a wreck, which produced a mutton snapper, our target species, and some amberjacks and almaco jacks. We kept one to smoke; they are wonderful for smoked fish.
On the third day I took out some of the staff from Auto Profit Masters, Will, Andy, Jake and Chad. It was a rough day to go to the hump but the bite was better out there then on the reef and wrecks. So we roughed it to the hump, a long trek out there but well worth it. We were the only ones out there and we caught tuna after tuna. The bite was as good or better than a couple days prior. The fish were all over 10 pounds, and some up to 20 pounds. Live bait wasn’t working very well, so we jigged most of them. Even in the rough water, these guys stuck it out and caught a tremendous amount of tuna. We didn’t keep them all, but enough for them to split up to take home. We had a close encounter with a hammerhead shark where I grabbed him by his dorsal fin. That’s how close he was to us, trying to eat our tuna we were able to get some good photos, and I got the silly notion to grab a hold of a green hammerhead shark. Once he noticed I had a hold of him he got upset and took off at a blistering speed. When we got back to the dock I had cut up some of the tuna for some fresh sashimi while my clients waited for their fish to be cleaned, another benefit of keeping my boat behind a restaurant that serves sushi.
On the fourth day I took out one of the Owners of Auto Profit Masters and his family. Since they had to do class that afternoon we were scheduled for a half-day charter, which would mean that we weren’t going back to the hump. So we hit the wrecks and caught amberjacks and almaco jacks. It was as good as it gets, double headers AJ’s take a while to get in, averaging a 30 minute fight we had enough time to catch eight 30-pound jacks. Smiles all around, the brute strength of these fish is tremendous. From catching walleye to 30 pound Jacks, there is just no comparison. Up in Colorado they fish for walleye and they were telling me it is like catching a plastic bag, they weren’t used to fish that fought back, so all in all they were extremely satisfied with there big fish experience.
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.