MARATHON, Florida Keys — Hogfish, it’s what’s for dinner. Hogfish has to be one of the best fish we have down here in the Keys and they are all over the place right now. I have been taking my friends out to the patches and we have been shooting our dinner. Hogfish have to be the easiest fish to shoot; they turn sideways to make it easier to shoot them when confronted. Not very smart for as fish go, but it sure is nice of them. You can find hogfish on reefs, and grass beds. I usually will find them on the outskirts of the patches. These fish can change colors in an instant to blend into the bottom. It is really neat to see these fish change colors and they really do blend in amazingly. Most of the hogfish you will find in shallow water, but if you dive in the deeper reefs they can be abundant out there too. I will usually find bigger ones out in the deeper water, some up to five pounds or better. I donated the fish to the Monkey for a fish fry this week. My buddy Bobby Butler made some fried hogfish poorboys that were out of this world. He took the fillets and marinated them for a couple of hours in Coco Lopez, which is sweetened, condensed coconut milk. Then he breaded them with rice krispies and put coleslaw on a sub roll and man it was amazing. Thanks Bobby.
The sailfish action was a little slow this week but there was some great wahoo fishing. High speed trolling has been working well from 150-250 feet of water. Most people were using drails and plastics, but I talked to one of my friends up the road a bit and they were having some great luck with live speedos. They caught lots of kingfish and five wahoo from 20-40 pounds. One of my friends caught a few wahoo this week using ballyhoo with cone lures in front. The sailfish action was slow but a couple of days they turned on pretty good in the shallows. Following the bait sprays was the key this week. Finding the frigates diving was also a good indication of some action too. Live bait has been pretty easy to come by right now. There are lots of cigars here in Marathon, which is unusual, and plenty of pilchards on the flats from 79th street up to Valhalla. The ballyhoo can be found just about everywhere, but if you want the green backs they are back in the bay and they are all over the place as well.
The reef is still on fire with yellowtail, jacks, kings, muttons and groupers. Anchoring up can be so much fun this time of year. You can do all sorts of fishing while you’re anchored up on your yellowtail spot. I like to yellowtail fish first and while we are catching yellowtails I put down a couple of bottom rods with one large bait for grouper and a small bait for muttons. After we have enough yellowtails I will switch over and king fish either from a kite or just flat lining from the back of the boat. Big kings will circle your yellowtails and putting one up in the kite off the side of the boat will usually yield some big smoker kings. Most people don’t like to eat kingfish, but I will tell you from my own personal experience, they make great smoked fish dip. Besides, they really are a great sport fish, which is usually overlooked because of their poor food quality. I have caught many kingfish over 50 pounds and they are like fighting a large wahoo. They will make blistering runs and my favorite part is when they strike the bait on the surface, either exploding on the bait or coming fifteen feet out of the water with the bait in their mouth. Wintertime fishing is one of my favorite times of the year because you just never know what you’re going to get. You could catch dolphin, sailfish, wahoo, tuna, white marlin, grouper, muttons, yellowtail and other assorted snappers. There are sharks, and barracudas, and numerous kinds of jacks, which will test your will and your tackle.
Way out has been a virtually barren except for some sword fishing off the shelf and lots of big tuna at the humps. The tunas have been thick but so are the sharks. You just never know when the sharks will be bad, but most days this time of the year they seem to swarm the humps and the reefs. We dove the other day and the first three spots had a big bull shark swimming on them. We only stayed in those areas for a short time, because they bull sharks were starting to investigate us, so not to tempt fate we moved. The jigs and live bait were the only way to get the big tunas to bite. If you trolled you only caught bait size tunas. Fishing further in front of the hump can help keep the sharks from getting your tuna, but you really are at their mercy.
Good luck, it looks like the rain missed us this week, and I looking forward to the next front, hopefully it will spark up the sailfish bite.