Weekly Florida Keys Fishing Update from Capt. Dave Schugar and Sweet E'Nuf Charters
Posts Tagged ‘Florida Keys’
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.
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.
Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
The Florida Keys are a wonderful place year round, as kids go back to school the Keys slow down, but not the fishing.
This is a remarkable time to fish down here, as the winds are calm with scattered showers around, nice warm weather for fishing and diving. Another great reason to come is it is much cheaper to be here, as we leave our tourist season behind, all the hotels and motels drop their rates to try and compete with the loss of tourists. So not only is the fishing good, but it costs cheaper to come and play. It may be hard for some to come as your kids are working hard in school, but for those who have no kids or your kids are grown or in college, this is an amazing time for you.
Hate waiting in lines for dinner, or at the grocer? Or too many people on your fishing spot? Well, this is the time for you. Coming this time of the year you need to watch the weather, but if you can time it right, and as long as there isn’t a hurricane bearing down on us, the Florida Keys at this time of year can be amazing.
The hurricane season has so much to offer fisherman, from snappers to groupers on the reef, to dolphin, wahoo, and tuna offshore. Fishing for muttons, amberjacks, and cubera snappers on the wrecks, and deep-dropping for fish such as barrels, and rosefish in 600-1000 feet of water. As we speak, the ban on the deep-drop fish is being over turned, so we will be able to fish for snowys, tiles and queen snapper, too. During the fall, the Keys have so much to offer, as we don’t want to forget about diving for lobsters and spearfishing for hogfish, snappers and groupers.
With the water temperature around the mid 80s, there is no better time to enjoy your time down here in the Keys. Who knows? After a class on how to handle lionfish, you may want to take a stab of spearfishing these invasive species that seem to be over running the reef. There are lionfish derbies which you might want to get in on for cash and prizes as well.
In October, I will be targeting dolphin as they return from the northern waters as they cool. This dolphin season has been great — plenty of fish on most days — but in October, the small fish will have grown to ten pounds on their journey up the east coast of the United States, and they will follow the warm water back down here to the Keys and the Caribbean to winter in the cold months. Dolphin can travel 1000 miles in a week, so it doesn’t take them long to come back when the waters up north start to turn cold. I really enjoy the October dolphin run; it’s usually close in from 5-15 miles from the beach. And all through the winter while we live bait for the sailfish we catch dolphin as a by-catch.
I will also be looking for some great wahoo action during this time as well, fishing weed lines and floating debris can be very effective this time of the year as well. If you want to catch wahoo, finding good water in 200-400 feet of water is a must…tthese toothy critters love fast moving baits and using large natural baits work well too. Catching large dolphin will be my primary target, but a wahoo will always round out a day especially when they are over 30 pounds, which they are in October.
All of the reef will be back to normal…no more spawning fish. They have all finished this now, so our normal groupings of yellowtail will be schooling around the ledges and the edge of the reef. As the water cools a bit, you will start seeing that the trend will be shallower water as these fish move up into the shallower reefs. As the water cools, the groupers will also start moving back up the reef as they will start to gather for their spawn around the first of December. Fish will gather were the food is present, so when cruising up and down the reef, take note where the schools of yellowtail are, as this will be a beacon for these grouper who are feeding on them.
If you ever had a fish tank, there was always the boss of the group. On the reef, it’s the big black grouper or goliath. They will have the prime spot to ambush their food, usually near large coral heads, holes in the reef, or cracks in the reef. The reef is not the same throughout the Keys; it changes from area to area. The edge may be in 70 feet or 90 feet in other areas, but as long as there are holes and large relief areas you will find the groupers stalking the smaller fish. They are not picky, but it best to have an assortment of bait…it can’t hurt, anyway. If anything, when fishing for black groupers, white grunts — the bigger the better, in most cases — are key, because they come with their own grouper call. If you ever caught a grunt you know what I mean; when they get distressed, they grunt, and as a result this calls in the groupers.
Come on down, and plan a hurricane season fishing excursion! I promise you won’t regret it if you watch the weather and fish. If I am busy, I can always hook you up with some of the other great captains we have down here, so no worries. The only thing you have to worry about is the cooler space that you will need to bring home these excellent tasting fish.
If you haven’t signed up for my E-Book this is an excellent time to do it, it is located on the front page of my website. The E-Book is a great light read and in the process of signing up for it enters you into the data base where you can be informed about specials and new updates with my business.
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.