Weekly Florida Keys Fishing Update from Capt. Dave Schugar and Sweet E'Nuf Charters
Posts Tagged ‘pilchards’
Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010
Wintertime fishing is here, so get ready for some bent rods. The Florida Keys have so much to offer this time of the year. Fishing offshore you can expect to catch swordfish, dolphin, wahoo and blackfin tuna. As for the reef, yellowtails, muttons, groupers, cobia and kingfish will be the target for most anglers. Fishing for such an assortment of species it would be wise to bring many different kinds of baits and tackle. One of the greatest attributes of the Florida Keys is that our fishing areas overlap in which you can fish for multiple species at the same time.
The biggest draw to the Florida Keys is our world-renowned sailfish. Catching ten sailfish in a day can be easy on the right day. When we get the north winds the bait gets piled up on the edges of the reef and become targets of the hungry sailfish. Watching hundreds to thousands of ballyhoo jumping for their life as sailfish chase them for their morning snack always gets my blood flowing. Getting positioned to attack these bait sprays can be tough, but if you have a tower it makes it easier, find the bait showers, which will get you in the area. Once you are in the area look for the sailfish themselves as they chase and ball up the bait. Once you have a target, position the boat up wind so that your angler will have an easy throw to the sailfish. I prefer to belly-hook the baits so I can jerk them and cause them to swim down.
Make sure every bait you pitch out is healthy and lively. If you have pilchards for bait, I like to scoop ten to twenty of them over the side to get the sails eating, and when you pitch yours out it becomes an easy transaction. Sometimes the sailfish want only ballyhoo and I will hook them through their tail for a quick pitch bait or wrap the bill with wire keeping the hook exposed.
Last years sailfish season was out of this world, and I expect the same for this season. Since we release all of our sailfish, they are capable to spawn and continually increasing their population. One of my favorites is a quad, four sails hooked up and going in different directions. There is nothing more fun than watching a sailfish dance across the water as line screams from the reel. Sailfish are such an incredible animal, beautiful and magnificent, king of the Florida Straits.
While fishing the reef we tend to anchor up and chum. I prefer to use one bag with two blocks in the bag. The action of the two blocks of chum rubbing together creates a heavy flow. Some people prefer to have two separate bags with one block in each, which is fine, but what I have found if you want a heavy flow of chum you need two blocks in a bag at a time. Yellowtails have voracious appetite, and will become balled up on the surface for easy pickings. To help keep these fish up on top, you must have oats; yes regular rolled oats that you eat for breakfast. Thaw a block of chum overnight in a five gallon bucket, then mix with water and oats. Keep scooping this mixture in the water you will see the difference.
While chumming on the reef I love to drop down the heavy rods for grouper and muttons. I will always drop the heaviest rig first, that’s usually when the biggest one hits. I am rigging my 50 wide with 80-pound braid on a heavy, but flexible custom standup rod. Using 100-pound leader to Mustad #9174 8/0-9/0 and enough lead to hold the bottom. Don’t forget to sharpen your hooks, unless they are the laser sharpened hooks. I can recall one day out fishing when I had gotten lazy and didn’t sharpen one of my hooks and I missed three bites in a row, and as soon as I sharpened the hook, we had resumed catching again. Your guess is as good as mine, but I believe it really helps your hookup ratio. Fishing the reef with this combo will take good form and muscle. Back when I was learning from my mentor, he called this style of fishing stop-um or pop-um fishing. Grouper roam a few feet from holes, rusty metal, and ledges, so it is in your best interest to get him coming up. You can catch plenty of grouper on lighter tackle, but you are almost guaranteed to loose the big one. The biggest grouper I have ever caught on rod and reel is 450 pounds. That was a challenge with the rig I use, but eventually I got him coming to the surface. Goliath grouper are the largest but pound for pound the black grouper is king. I have gotten nice blacks up to 60 pounds, and without heavy tackle, I would never have seen fish so big.
While anchored up chumming go fly a kite. Kite fishing can be added to your day quite easily. When you’re yellowtaling you don’t want live bait flat lines, they will scare the schools of yellowtail snapper. So, using a kite you can take these baits and place them just out side of the yellowtail school, naturally making it a target for other predatory species. If you want to catch a big kingfish, wahoo, sailfish, or even cobia, I like to use speedo’s, goggle-eye’s, large pilchards or herring. If you cant catch those, a blue runner or 12” or better yellowtail will work for bait. Remember you are creating a feeding frenzy and causing a lot of commotion. Naturally, predators will circle as they look for an easy meal. By using the Kite you are keeping the lines out of the water and you will still be able to yellowtail fish and drop to the bottom for groupers and muttons.
Always remember to only keep what you can use and release everything unharmed, so we can keep this great fishery abundant as it is today. Please don’t forget to support our troops who keep our freedom safe so we can enjoy ishing on our open oceans.
Monday, August 9th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — Fishing at night has been the ticket. You beat the heat and the snappers are swarming. We headed out to reef the past two days and looked for some good marks in 35-45 feet of water and threw the hook. An hour after dark the bite is on.
I started to fish with a half oz. of lead on my knocker rig and as the night progressed we ended up using a 1/8 oz. sinker. I didn’t switch because of the slowing current, as a matter of fact the current picked up. It is almost free lining, keeping the bait down but not on the bottom. Every once in a while I will hold the line and the bait will rise up and then I feed it back, waiting for the bite.
Last year I cast-netted 180 quarts of sardines, which I am still using. I saved the baits all year so that I would have them for the summer months of nighttime mangrove fishing. Sardines are perfect bait for the snappers because of their size and the amount of oil in them. They don’t stay on the hook real good but they are definitely preferred bait by the mangroves.
Each night we were able to capture a few other species other than mangroves. Almost every night we have caught a legal red grouper and one night we caught a small cubera about 10 pounds and the other night we caught a few mutton snappers around 8 pounds.
The current has been good, in the west-bound direction. It doesn’t take long for the bait to show up so don’t forget the cast net. I will switch back and forth from the sardine to pilchard and I mainly chop up the pilchards into chunks and chum with them, but if you don’t have sardines they will work fine.
Good luck and keep only what you can use — conservation starts with us.
Saturday, July 3rd, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — This week we were inundated with lots of small dolphin offshore, with a few bigger ones. Break out your ruler because most of them are close. One day there were decent schoolies from 6-9 pounds, real quality fish, but they weren’t eating, and they wouldn’t stay with the boat. The full moon has shorted the bite, but if you leave early the fish should cooperate till 10:00AM. As we get closer to the new moon the bite should lengthen and being overcast can help too. Makes it harder to see the fish, but they seem a little less timid in low light conditions.
Most of the fish have been congregating on the edge of the Gulf Stream and a few miles beyond. Most of the fish are under birds, but when looking for fish, try and find as few birds together as possible. This will indicate dolphin instead of skippies. My magic number is two to three birds for big fish, but five birds can be either schoolies or a bunch of big dolphin. You just never know what going to be under a huge flock of birds either, but in most cases they are skippies. If the skippies are small, you might find wahoo or marlin close by. When I fished in Costa Rica, I learned to troll around the birds and not through them to raise billfish. The billfish are looking for the few bait fish that get separated from the school, it seems that they can take them out easier one at a time than trying to slash into a ball of moving fish. I learned that one on the discovery channel.
The tuna have been biting pretty good on the live bait. Jigs seem to catch a few 10 pounders, but if you’re looking for the big ones, you will need plenty of live pilchards. Getting the pilchards hasn’t been hard if you venture out on the reef after dark. Anchoring anywhere from 18-40 feet of water after dark you can enjoy the great mangrove bite and load up on pilchards for the following day to the hump. If you anchor in 40 feet of water, the pilchards will be a little less dense, but the gogs are much thicker in this deeper water. By using the bigger sabiki rigs you can keep more gogs on the line without as many coming off. The sword fishing report was good, and my Buddy Capt. Brian caught a 350-pound mako with his clients.
You have to get out to the wrecks and catch some muttons! They are still biting ok. Many days I get six or so with all the amberjack action you could want. The muttons have been averaging about 12 pounds, with some into the 25-pound class. Live bait is where it’s been at. Pinfish, cigars, grunts, and crabs have all been producing well. Dead bait which can work well when the fish are stacked up, it really hasn’t been working for lately, but I always keep throwing some dead baits down because sometimes they will get lazy and catching a live bait just seems like too much effort sometimes. Split tailed baits or plugs will work, even strips of bonita are some of my favorite dead bottom baits.
I am headed to the Tortugas for a few days, and I will post again after I get back so check sometime after Tuesday. Have a great “Fourth” and don’t forget that it is our military that we really need to thank so that we can go fishing. Remember that here in Marathon you don’t have to drive home, call a cab and for a few bucks extra they will drive your car home for you.
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, January 25th, 2010
MARATHON, Florida Keys — It is feeling more and more like the Keys with temperatures up in the 80’s, just where we like it. The warmer weather has warmed up the shallows, which can be essential for finding our bait for the day. Pilchards are showing back up and as well as the pinfish, so get out there and get your bait for some hot offshore fishing. The ocean side has bee red hot no matter which of the numerous species you like to target.
Sail fishing has been as hot as it can get from the showers in the shallows to the packs of sails tailing down sea off the edge of the reef. I haven’t been sail fishing this week but, from what I gathered from my friends and other charter captains, it is good out there, really good. Using live bait will generally always be better than trolling dead bait, but one of my friend got three sails on dead bait, along with some dolphin and blackfin tuna. There are many different ways to fish for sails down here, so pick the best way you know how and go get some. When the wind blows you shouldn’t let it get you down, you can always anchor up on the reef.
The reef has been producing some quality yellowtails from 45-60 feet of water. While your fishing for your yellowtails, put out a kite with a blue runner or a yellowtail for a chance of a smoker king or wahoo. When your chumming and you have a big school of fish behind your boat, there will be some other predatory fish lurking back there for an easy meal. If your chum is going the same direction as the wind, add a couple of big split shots your kite. This will allow your kite to veer to one side or the other. You don’t want your kite bait back in your yellowtail school for two reasons. The first reason is that it might scare your school of yellowtail, and by placing it amongst all the other fish it may get lost amongst the school of yellowtails. So if you get your kite to skirt to the outside of the school it will be an easy target by the predators. Most predators will attack a bait that gets separated from its school first. I also would recommend that you make your kite go to the side closer to the deeper water. When we have North winds you may not even need any split shots if the current is strong enough. Try out this method, it really works. If you never have used a kite and feel intimidated with it, hire me to run your boat for the day, I will teach you how to work the kite and many other methods, which all of us captains use down here.
Wreck fishing has been really good; many different species are being caught in the deeper water. Amberjacks seem to be on all the wrecks, but if you are persistent you might get yourself some nice muttons that have been in the 10-18 pound range. Groupers have been biting well, but unfortunately we will have to release all of them due to the new grouper regulations. The bait has been easier to catch as the warm water returns to the shallows.
Deep dropping is on fire, from snowy grouper to queen snappers. Some tilefish are being caught and of course the barrels have been biting as well. I like to use cut bait and squid when I am deep dropping, it gives them a choice, even fish like a choice. Swords are biting but if you are as unlucky like we were this last trip you can fight a sword for a couple hours only to have a shark eat it before you can get it in. I swear that it was a jumbo because he fought really hard the whole time, and usually when they fight hard on the bottom, it’s a big one. Large swordfish do one of two things when you hook one. They will fight hard and stay down for many hours or fire up to surface faster than you can reel in the line. We had numerous bites and hook ups, but the fish were just coming unglued on this trip. Well I guess that’s why they call it fishing and not catching. The more frustrating thing was that my friend Capt Will Wagner fishing right next to me landed two fish. My mother told me there would be days like this.
Have a great week, and catch some fish!
Monday, August 17th, 2009
MARATHON, Florida Keys — This time of year the dolphin should still be out there in great numbers, but it seems that this year the fish were here but just not as many as last year. For the most part this week the offshore bite was a bit slow with a few fish being caught in the 600-700 feet of water, which is about 12 miles to 18 miles. But as the week went on when the winds picked up there were 6-10 feet seas in 300 feet where I was told from a captain friend of mine who caught a nice catch of gaffers and some schoolies. Almost all the dolphin have been found under birds and large pieces of debris. You need to look for five birds or less, any more birds and you will most likely find skippies or bonitas.
The humps have slowed down, with mainly small tunas even with live bait. I was out there and we went through 300 pilchards and only got a few small tuna around 6-8 pounds. It was tough because of people not being courteous or just not knowing the ethics of a good fisherman. Basically what was happening was on every drift we had one of three other boats out there trolling right through our chum slick and so close one time actually sucked up one of our lines. We feed him all 300 yards of our braid to teach that jerk a lesson. Hopefully he got home, but I hope his seal on lower unit got breached. It was so frustrating that every time we sent up here comes one of these trollers right up the stern of my boat. There was a reason why these guys kept trolling up our slick, we had pilchards jumping out of the water and five frigates diving and tunas busting all behind the boat. We finally got fed up and left; it was the gross negligence of a fisherman with no concern about his fellow fisherman. I do believe that at least one of those guys just didn’t know what he was doing, but the other two were just blatantly disregarding any common sense.
Deep dropping has saved my offshore trips lately. It has been really great conditions for deep dropping. The snowys have been biting; as a matter of fact I just found a new spot, which is holding an enormous amount of snowy groupers. I found a ledge, which stretches about two miles and after catching two snowys we left. I will keep working the rest of that ledge when I have the right charter. I went to one of my usual spots where I get snowys, barrel fish, and tilefish. This time we only got barrel fish, but we got one that would have shattered the world record. It weighed 30 pounds, which is also the biggest one I have ever seen. I believe the record is 17 pounds and normally we get barrels weighing in at 15-25 pounds, I should try for the record one of these days. I still haven’t found any queens yet this year on my usual spots. I have a few spots where I catch queens but the Government has shut down two of the three spots where I catch queens, but I will find other spots where queens gather. We get queen snapper for about four months during the year on a regular basis.
The nighttime reef action has slowed down; the majorities of the fish have spawned already and are moving back where they came from. The snappers on the reef are still biting but not like they have been. It is still worth going nighttime snapper fishing, but your going to have to work a little harder that’s all. During the daytime the muttons have started biting a little better, it was tough year for us in Marathon on the muttons, but they are scattered along the outer part of the reef and on some of the wrecks, the smaller the wreck the better. The yellowtails are chewing and the size has started to get bigger. As we get closer to the Fall the yellowtails will be getting bigger, well it’s not that the fish are getting bigger it’s the fact that big fish will travel up and down the reef looking for food sources. It is very important to feed your yellowtails. People like to lean out the chum, but you really want to push as much chum as your pocket will allow you. The more chum the healthier and the faster your yellowtail will be. The wrecks have been loaded with amberjacks, and the kings are starting to show up in full force. Take advantage of the good kingfish bite, and you can release them if you have no use for them. I like to make sure I have a good de-hooker so not to harm the fish and to retrieve the hook.
Good luck guys. Oh yeah by the way, from this point on I will be giving away a chance to win a cruise for two to the Caribbean for a week. Every client from now on needs to ask for the application form. Thanks for reading my report and don’t forget about how great the bite will be in October. I only have 14 days left; sometimes November can be great too.