A Florida Keys Marlin Story

A Florida Keys Marlin Story

Out in the Florida Straits, fishing in the deep blue sea, is my favorite place to be. From being a charter boat captain, I’ve found you can never predict anything. Just be glad the weather’s mild most of the year…

This latest adventure involves three friends and story similar to the Old Man and The Sea.

About two months before this trip, my Friend Paul and his lovely wife Alice called me up and booked an offshore trip with the intentions of targeting a blue marlin and some mahi mahi. During his phone call he told me about this amazing dredge that one of his acquaintances had, which he wanted to try out. Of course, I told him to bring it, as Marathon has marlin even if most people don’t fish for them.

Fishing for marlin is very involved with dredges, teasers and numerous baits in the water. This can be very boring most of the time because it requires ignoring the mahi mahi and tuna, and it involves lots of trolling. The process of looking for particular conditions and certain bird behavior can be very taxing. So, after hanging up the phone, I pulled up my calendar and crossed out the day he wanted and caught myself daydreaming a bit, and I was dreaming of the perfect marlin trip.

As my season went on, I forgot all about this special charter I had booked months in advance. The night before, I got a phone call from Paul. He said he was in town and ready for the marlin trip in the morning. This occurred during our peak season here in the Keys, and I was very busy and had forgotten that their trip was specifically for marlin. While talking to Paul, I pulled up my calendar on my phone and saw that this trip was indeed to target marlin. I got goosebumps with the excitement of the possibility of catching one.

As we caught up with our lives, he reminded me about his friend’s dredge he wanted to try while we were out there. He also told me they were supposed to try it the week before, during the Viking Shootout (which is a tournament held by Viking Yachts). They never got around to using it, and they very much wanted to try it out. Of course, I told him, since I don’t own one myself, I would love to check it out. I usually use top water squid teasers, but I thought that the dredge might be better – or at least look sexy in the water (as 80% of the tackle you see in the tackle store is to catch the fisherman, not the fish).

The next morning came quickly, a slight glow peering out from the darkness east on the horizon as I drove up to the dock. I opened the tailgate of my truck and started to unload my rods and marlin gear from the truck bed. I started to get goosebumps again, and I guess this happens every time I get the chance to go marlin fishing. They are the top gamefish in the world, bar none. Their sheer strength and agility alone make them without equal in any ocean.

It was about 7:00 when I finally got all the gear loaded on the boat, and iced down both Fridgid Ridgid coolers. In the live well I was thawing horse ballyhoo which were to be rigged on some knuckleheads and Islanders on 200 pound leaders. The main colors I use are black, black/purple, dark blue, chartreuse and pink. Fish will eat anything, but I really like those colors as I am a little bit of a naturalist. Most of the bait that would naturally be offered here would be flying fish, tuna, dolphin, and squid.

Once I got most of my rigs laid in my bait cooler, Paul and Alice drove up nice and early, as I am sure they were just as excited as I was. After greeting them, I helped them load their gear onboard and it was at this time Paul showed me this dredge he wanted to pull today. What a beauty it was. It had retractable arms and looked to have about 60 individual pink rubber squids. He showed me the adjustable weights for running it at different speeds. When fishing with all artificial baits, you will run the boat much faster than if you use natural baits, so having an integrated weight system is a great option.

I started the engines, tossed the lines and we were off. The anticipation was getting the best of me, or maybe it was the quad-shot of espresso from Curly’s Coffee Shop, but all I know was that my whole body was vibrating. We rounded the corner of our marina’s unmarked channel and made for the sea as I pushed the throttles to 4500 RPMs to get up to cruising speed at 31 kts.

We all looked at each other with excitement and I chimed in and laid out my plan of attack. Since I’d been out on the water every day, I’d been seeing free-jumping marlin just on the inside edge of the wall (which is the continental shelf). I proclaimed that we should start there. Putting the blinders on, we passed a few sets of birds that I was sure had dolphin under them, but kept the course true and headed straight to the area where I had seen many marlin all week.

After about a thirty-five minute run on calm majestic blue water I looked down and saw that we were close, so I powered down the engines and proceeded to lay out the outriggers while leaving the course to the auto pilot. I proceeded to pull out four rigged baits and started systematically setting up our spread.

After all the baits were in position, the amazing dredge was unfolded and placed into the water, and just as I suspected, it was sexy! I mean it looked amazing just out of the prop wash on the port side with our first bait on the port flat line right behind it. This dredge was truly a one of a kind. I think it only took twenty minutes – and fish on!

The fish was big, pulling drag steadily away from the boat, as we waited for it to breach. To our surprise, it didn’t breach but kept dumping the line at an impressive rate. Alice and I frantically pulled lines in and finally got the dredge out and threw it in the back trough so it was out of the way. Looking at Paul’s reel, I notice that the backing was starting to show. I quickly started to tack over to his fish.

At this point, the mystery fish (which I was thinking since it hadn’t surfaced it might be a big yellowfin tuna) started to slow down, and Paul was able to gain back a hundred yards of line. Thirty minutes into the battle I was able to get pretty close and we finally saw something. It was dark and big, as it was still sixty to seventy feet down.

Paul, with beads of sweat dripping off of him as if he just got splashed, was doing a phenomenal job putting solid pressure of the fish and it was at this time the fish took off as if it weren’t even attached to a fifty pound outfit and a weary Paul. All that line we just gained back was gone and then some, as now the fish was in high gear dumping us.

At that moment my heart jumped as I watched the splice from the backing fly through the guides at warp speed. It was at this moment that we were finally able to identify the fish as it leapt from the cobalt blue ocean. “It’s a blue marlin!”, I yelled, my heart still pounding. I slammed the engines in gear to chase him down. The marlin jumped several times, lurching away from us. Every time I got close to him he would jump and run, greyhounding away from us – he truly was a superstar.

After about an hour and a half, we subdued him long enough to get a few pictures and some video (which somehow got erased). While holding the leader, the 200 pound test finally gave way, and the fish we been battling swam off unharmed, but I think we may have hurt his pride. We all sat there and watched him swim down into the deep, dark blue. What an experience, Paul’s first blue marlin, on the day we went specifically for them. As one of my role models growing up used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together”.

School’s Out for the Summer

Summertime is upon us as kids are finishing up their scholastic year and everyone is dreaming about catching the big one on their summer break. Well, dream no more – make it a reality because the dolphin are arriving in the Florida Keys. Here in Marathon the Dolphin fishing has started with a bang.

To view details about a dolphin fishing charter or other offshore & deep sea fishing charters in Marathon, FL, click here.

This week, numerous big Mahi are being reported with some schoolies popping up. Most of the fish have been on debris but blind trolling has produced as well. There are still wahoo lingering around the outskirts of the reef and sailfish are still being caught as well. So if you’re fishing a small boat you may not want to head way out for the dolphin, yet instead stay close for some still great action just outside the reef.

I am still trolling double rigged ballyhoo on planers using the rubber band/snap swivel method. If you are not sure what that is, let me explain: I take a planer and attach it to 50 feet of 400# test mono and attach one to each of the back cleat. Then I take a few rubber bands and a few snap swivels and attach one rubber band to the swivel part of the snap swivel. Then I take my ballyhoo and feed it back to my desired distance from the boat and wrap the rubber band around the line seven times and then go back through the end of the rubber band clinching the knot tight on the line. Now take the snap part of the snap swivel and clip it to the 400# test and feed your bait back until the connection reaches the planner which is fifty feet back. Now when the fish bites, the rubber band snaps and now it’s just you and the fish. I usually bring in the planner by hand if I think it’s a big one as it can get in the way if left out.

On our most recent trip we found a Cuban refugee sailboat that was empty but loaded with big dolphin. As we trolled by it the first time we hooked up with a decent 15 pound bull which was followed by a decent school of mixed sized dolphin ranging from 40 to 10 pounds. We sat there for an hour picking off 15 fish on light tackle with 30# fluoro leader. We had to practice patience fighting such large fish on light tackle, and we only lost two fish, but what a time my clients had fighting slammers on light tackle.

By the time we had just about finished catching all that wanted to bite three boats came blasting in on us. We could only laugh as they were about 20 minutes late on getting into all the big fish we caught. We picked a few more after the boats came in on us, and I do believe that one of them, from a local boat rental company here in Marathon, had caught a few 10 pounders which were being finicky.

After rearranging the fish on ice we blasted in to get these guys on some spearfishing on the patches. The big swarms of mangroves aren’t here yet but there are some mangroves showing up and decent size fish too, most however are really small.

The wreck fishing is sparking up nicely for April and we have been getting better catches of mutton snapper every day. Either hitting the wrecks or the reefs there seems to be an abundance of mutton snapper moving around, as I have been catching a fair amount of them almost every trip. It still takes a bit of patience especially with the lack of current we have been experiencing this month.

Fishing on the reef I have been using chunks of Bonita or Wahoo and Kingfish belly on a yellowtail jig ranging from 1/16-3/8 oz. depending on the current. Any fresh chunks of fish will work, so if you have blue runner or sand eel, just try to use something fresh. I like my chunks or little strips to be no larger than 2 inches but depending on the bait or size muttons that seem to be around if you keep it to these parameters they will have no problem eating your bait.

Fishing the wrecks I have been using dead and live bait with no particular difference in action between the two. For dead bait I have been using Bonita and Kingfish belly strips 6-8 inches long and making sure to keep them on the bottom with little to no movement if possible. Live bait always seems to work well when I use medium sized Pinfish and large to extra-large Pilchards. Since the current has been very weak this month I have been getting away with dropping my rigs with 6 oz. weights and holding the bottom fine. You will have to increase weight if there is a strong current.

The Yellowtail snapper action on the reef has been pretty good with an exception of a few days. Even though the current has been light to none we have still been getting a good bite.

This year the Filefish and Triggers are horrendous on the shallow reefs which can be very frustrating when you can’t get your bait back to the tails even when you can see them.

To battle this problem I have been using skin bait, which is any bait with tough skin so by the time the Filefish and Triggers chewed all the meat of the hook you were still left with a piece of skin which eventually make it down to the yellowtails and ultimately catching a yellowtail. Sometimes this tactic still doesn’t work and the only way is to make small oat balls with your bait in the center. This allows your bait to pass through the trash fish unscathed but the down side is you use a lot of oats and it gets a bit messy.

I’ll keep a bucket of fresh water next to the softened oat mixture for fast hand washing before grabbing the rod. To make things go faster its best to let someone else make your oat ball if possible and take turns, this will help keep the mess down. In the past I have talked about making slop before you head out but I would wait to see how the trash fish are before you make the slop, because if you use all your oats for the slop you won’t have any to make the balls with and slop is too loose to make balls from.

Whether you fish inshore or offshore you’re bound to get into some great action here in Marathon, and if you are looking to book a charter do it sooner than later because the Keys have been very busy this year and you don’t want to go fishing with the last captain sitting on the dock – it’s kind of like back in grade school when picking teams, you don’t want to be the last guy standing there. Do your research when picking a charter company; and most of all have a great time.

The Ultimate Guide to Deep Drop Fishing in the Florida Keys

Fishing Where the Sun Don’t Shine: Equipment, Rigs, & Species.

The fastest growing fishing industry has been the deep dropping with electric reels. In the past ten years this fishery has absolutely exploded. Reel manufactures have been busy to keep up with each other as new functions and new design breakthroughs, let anglers reach new depths of the ocean with ease.

Break out your checkbook because new technology isn’t cheap, ranging from $1,000 to $4,700 for a reel was the norm. More than a decade has passed since the explosion of electric reel enthusiast’s and the price for the new and improved reels have finally started to come down. What was $1,000 is now $600 and what was $4,700 is now $3,500.

The pros and cons of the major reels we use will determine which ones we will buy. I will break down a few pros and cons and you determine which reel is the best for you.

Part I: Deep Drop Rods – Pros and Cons

Daiwa 1000

Price $600

Florida Keys deep drop fishing reel Daiwa 1000
Daiwa Tanacom 1000 Power Assist Reel

Pros Cons
 Light Weight  Poor Torque
 Safety Stop  Body is Plastic
 Medium Retrieval Speed  Dropping you have to pull back on the spool to Disengage
 Line Counter
 Line Capacity
 Line Guider


Recommended Use: This reel is great for deep dropping for bottom fish but not swords, but limited to 1200-1500 feet of water which covers most species of bottom fish but not all.

Daiwa 3000

Price $3,500

Deep Drop Fishing Rod tested in Florida Keys
Daiwa Marine Power MP 3000 Power Assist Reel
Pros Cons
Huge Line Capacity Slow Retrieval Rate
Tremendous Torque Heavy
Line Counter
Line Guider
Safety Stop
Aluminum Body


Recommended Use: This reel can be used for any deep water application but because it is so slow it takes forever to come up from really deep depths, it can be used and I like using it because of the line counter, and line guider, but since it is so slow your wasting time waiting for the rig to be retrieved.

Hooker Electric w/ Shimano Tiagra TI80WA Reel

Price $3,999

Pros Cons
Fast Line Retrieval Heavy
High Torque No Line Counter
Line Capacity No Line Guider
Aluminum Body No Safety Stop


Recommended Use: The Hooker comes in different sizes but depending on your application, the most common size is this one as it can be used for bottom fish and swordfish. It is very fast and has lots of torque for putting the screws to the fish especially in the Bahamas where sharks are very numerous. If you weren’t interested in sword fishing at all I would recommend their 30/0-50/0 reels. Now if you are a Penn guy I do believe the hooker can be rigged with Penn International as well with the Shimano Tiagra.

Kristal Fishing w/ Electric XL655 XF-Xtreme Reel

Price $3,450

Pros Cons
High Torque No Line Counter
High Retrieval Speed No Line Guider
Composite Body No Assist Handle
Tremendous Line Capacity Heavy


Recommended Use: Kristal reels are strictly deep dropping rigs with no handles, which if your electric reels stops for some reason you have no way of getting the line back on the reel effectively. They come in all sizes depending on your application. Most people get the largest or second to largest model so they can fish for whatever at any depth. The Kristal is the only reel out there that I am aware of that has a composite body and levers which is great on corrosion. Salt water is extremely caustic and in time eats all metals.

Dolphin Electreel w/New Shimano Tiagra 80WA

Price $3,170

Pros Cons
High Torque No Line Guider
Line Capacity No Line Counter
Aluminum Body Bulky, Heavy
Assist Handle

Conclusion: I hope this comparison will help you on your next purchase and these are only a few. There are many different sizes for electric reels and depending what you plan on doing with it will determine which size best suits your needs. The bigger the electric reel, the more expensive it is as in most reels. The biggest electric reels are mainly used for sword fishing as it is overkill on torque and line capacity for fishing waters less than 800 feet. The smaller reels will be fine for most deep dropping applications for snappers, groupers and tilefish.

Fishing where the sun doesn’t shine may not be for you, but catching fish only other people get to read about is part of the fun. The other part is eating them as almost all of these deep water species are fantastic table fare.

Part II: Deep Drop Species & The Rigs to Catch Them

Blue Line Tilefish

Blue lIne Tilefish caught deep dropping in Marathon FL
Two beautiful blueline tilefish reeled up from the deep waters off Marathon FL.

Blue Line Tilefish can be found near or on rock ledges or humps from Depths of 700-450 feet of water. I find that their favorite bait is squid, but they will eat just about any kind of fish. Their average sizes here in the Keys are 5-8 pounds with big ones up to 15 pounds are caught but infrequently. As far as food fair the smaller ones are by far better than the larger ones and they would be at the bottom of the chart from the best tasting to worst tasting deep drop fish. But by any means they still are better than yellowtail snapper, so they still are very good eating.

When fishing for them I will use small hooks usually 5/0 super mutu because of their small mouth. Even though these fish tend to be small they fight pretty good all the way to the surface, and if you lay your rig down and utilize all the hooks on your rig you may get a full stringer or at least three and then the fight is on! When using hand cranks or electric reels deep dropping is fun and you can fill the cooler with great eating fish.

Blue Line Tilefish are considered a grouper when consulting the FWC which lets you take three per angler as long as you still have three open grouper slots in your take still left open. If you had caught a snowy or yellow edge grouper then you would only be able to keep two. Remember that they are considered in your aggregate grouper take.

Golden Tilefish

golden tilefish caught deep dropping off Marathon FL Keys
Always a unique catch – a golden tilefish from a Marathon deep dropping charter.

Golden Tilefish are found from 1300-450 feet of water and are located on muddy bottom. They mainly eat squid but will eat other fish, yet squid should be the bait you use to have good success. Unlike most of the deep drop fish, Golden Tilefish are primarily are found on muddy bottoms as it becomes night they burrow into the mud for protection while they sleep. Golden Tilefish are beautiful fish with gold and blue and as they get older they grow a soft horn like appendage on the top of their head which has such a vibrant golden color to it.

As the Blue Line Tilefish the Golden Tilefish are categorized in the grouper aggregate but you are only allowed to harvest one fish per harvester, for instance you could have one Golden Tilefish and two Blue Line Tilefish or one Golden, one Blue Line, and one Snowy. There is no boat limit on Golden’s so you can have one golden per person on the boat.

I generally will use small to medium hooks for Golden’s, 5/0-10/0 circle hooks, and I do prefer the super mutu. Like the Blue Lines, the Goldens do not come off of the bottom to eat so if you lay the rig down on the bottom you are more likely to get multiple hook ups on one drop.

Snowy Groupers

snowy grouper caught deep dropping in Marathon FL Keys
Nice sized snowy grouper pulled up from the depths while deep drop fishing in Marathon, Florida Keys.

Snowy Groupers are found from 1100-450 feet of water near or on rock, ledges, holes or humps. I prefer to use large circle hooks 14/0-16/0 Mustad old school circle hooks. I use very large baits, such as whole Tinker Mackerel, slabs of Bonita or Skipjack, giant Squid and even fillet of Dolphin fish when the bait is hard to get. Usually Dolphin is already in the box as when I go deep dropping, as we find them on the way to the grounds, but I always bring some sort of bait just in case. Snowy Grouper are a prized catch down here in the Keys because it is so good to eat, one of the best eating fish in the ocean as far as I’m concerned.

Of course Snowy grouper is in the grouper aggregate category and you are only allowed to harvest one per vessel in Federal waters but in State waters you are allowed one per harvester in conjunction with your grouper aggregate. State waters end three miles from any point of land so you’re only going to catch them in Federal waters, but sometimes in Miami to West Palm Beach the deep water is close in where you could catch a snowy in State waters.

A big problem we have sometimes is we catch two Snowy Groupers on the same rig and because we are always in Federal waters we are required to throw back a doomed grouper instead of keeping a second Snowy. It’s the law and we have to follow it even though it’s wasteful. So, on my snowy rigs I usually only have two to three hooks instead of four or five and as soon as I feel the fish is hooked I bring up the rig so not to catch a second accidentally.

Yellow Edge Grouper

yellow edge grouper caught deep dropping and some dolphin
It was a Haul of a Day. Some nice yellow edge grouper to round out the dolphin feast.

Yellow Edge Grouper are found on or near rock Ledges, holes or humps. Yellow Edge grouper are very similar to the Snowy Grouper except they have yellow edges on their fins. As with the Snowy Grouper, Yellow Edges eat the same bait and I use the same set up for the two fish. Yellow Edge Grouper are mainly found in water depths from 600 feet to 900 feet.

When you catch a Yellow Edge Grouper you will catch more there, unlike the Snowys the Yellow Edge Grouper tend to school up a bit. I still like to use big baits and big hooks as these fish have enormous mouths, and sometimes of the year we get these really small Blackfin Tuna about a pound or two and I will use the whole fish for bait, I just split the tail so the bait swims instead of spinning.

Yellow Edge group taste the same as Snowys, if you were to do a taste test no one would be able to determine which fish was what. For such a similar fish you would think that the regulations would be same, but Yellow Edge Grouper have a one fish per harvester in conjunction with the three fish grouper aggregate limit.


wreckfish caught deep dropping in Florida Keys
Nobody said fish had to be pretty. This big guy is a wreckfish hooked while deep dropping in over two thousand feet of water in the Florida Keys.

Wreckfish are found from 1100-2600 feet of water on rock ledges, holes, and humps. When fishing for Wreckfish, I use 16/0 circle hooks and huge baits as these fish get big, averagely they weigh in at 60 pounds but can reach a few hundred pounds. When using such large baits you will need to increase you weight size and because of the depth the weight size should be ten to fifteen pounds. And again, because of strict regulations I only drop two to three hooks because this fish you are only allowed to keep one per vessel and it is only open for three months out of the year.

The Wreckfish is categorized in the grouper aggregate even though it’s not a grouper, it’s a member of the sea bass family. I have caught many in the past but in the past few years during the time of year we are allowed to catch them now I haven’t been very successful. Their food fair is ok, but really tough, I like to over cook them on the grill and then dip in drawn butter and it resembles lobster.

Queen Snapper

queen snapper caught deep dropping in Florida Keys
Ain’t she a beauty! The queen snapper is one of the most beautiful bright colored fish in the sea. And tasty, to boot.

Queen Snapper are found on or near rock ledges, holes and humps. This fish is highly prized for its meat and how beautiful they are. I tend to use big hooks for these not because of the size of their mouth, but because their mouths are soft and hooks tear out easily, so by using larger hooks I’m able to get a deeper bite with the hook to help ensure getting this tasty fish to the boat.

Queen snapper will eat any type of bait, most people use squid, but I like to have an assortment of different types of bait on the same rig with four to five hooks, as queen snapper are like most snappers, great at getting the bait off the hook without getting hooked.

The Queen Snapper is probably the best eating fish we have here in South Florida and they are quite numerous during the fall and winter months, as we get into the spring all of these fish leave and go somewhere, probably Mexico as that is the only place I have seen queen snapper of this quality like my long time fishing buddy Andy Payne is holding up in this photo of a twenty five pound specimen.

Currently we are allowed ten fish per angler but we never reach our limit as the time it takes to get down to the bottom and hook and bring back one to two fish at a time there just isn’t enough time in the day to get your limit. When these fish are in our area they are also followed by large sharks, so beating the sharks and trying not to pull them off the hook a lot of times we don’t get one every drift.

Unlike the deep water groupers and tilefish, queen snapper migrate long distances, because when they leave the Keys they are nowhere to be found in South Florida, except for a couple here and there. The majority of them leave our vicinity and are out of reach of us Keys fisherman.


escolar caught deep dropping in Marathon, FL Keys
An oldie but goodie. Capt. Dave Schugar of Sweet E’Nuf Charters with an Escolar reeled up from the deep waters of the Florida Keys.

Escolar can be found in 1300-2600 feet of water on rock and sandy bottoms. Escolar have many different species among their family, this one in the photo is an Escolar Roudi and is found very deep where mainly their only food are Anglerfish, Scaled Dragonfish, squid and many other deep water species most people have never heard about unless you watch the Discovery channel.

When fishing that deep I like to use squid and barracuda. I love squid for dropping because that is the natural forage fish these deep water species are accustomed to eating, and I like barracuda because of its tough skin, it is really hard for the fish to get it off the hook and also because it’s so stinky.

I generally use large hooks when dropping that deep as most of the fish even when they are small have big mouths. I will use 14/0-16/0 hooks with four to five hooks on my rig fishing this deep.

Escolar is quite common fish to find in a sushi restaurant otherwise you will almost never see it on the menu. It is a very oily fish and not great to cook. Some people will have a different opinion but that’s why there are so many fish to choose from.

Usually you don’t target Escolar, but instead it’s an accidental catch while fishing for other deep water species in the Florida Keys. When fishing ledges and humps, lots of different deep water species congregate there for many reasons, one being food, and others like the cover.

Yellow eye and Blackfin Snapper

yellow eye caught deep dropping off Marathon FL Keys
No telling where this Yellow Eye got his name…

Yellow eye and Blackfin Snapper can be found from 400-1000 feet of water on rocky walls and humps. Generally found off of Key West and the Bahamas this fish is greatly sought after as its soft snapper fillets are highly prized by anglers.

These fish gather in huge schools so one you found them you should load up. I generally use smaller hooks such as 5/0-8/0 super mutu circle hooks with 5-10 hooks on the rigs. These fish a have a distinctive yellow eye and the Black fin Snapper will have black on its body around the pectoral fin.

They are regulated by the 10 snapper aggregate limit. As of now there is no closed season. The best bait is barracuda because they are masters of getting the bait off your hooks, it’s absolutely amazing how efficiently they strip your bait off the hooks without getting hooked.

Barrel Fish

barrel fish caught deep dropping in Matrathon FL Keys
Barrelfish AKA Chicken O’ The Sea. Tasty deep dropping catch.

Barrel fish can be found from 700-1200 feet of water on ledges and humps. This is one of my favorite fish in the ocean. I call it chicken of the sea, because of its mild flavor and its unique texture. You can make nuggets out of it and fry like chicken and people who normally wouldn’t eat fish will enjoy it as long as you didn’t tell them it was fish. It has the texture of chicken and I just love it.

I catch them on mainly squid but they will eat cut fish. I use big hooks because like the Queen Snapper they have soft mouths and they fight hard so they tear of the hook fairly easy. Barrel Fish have an unusually thick slime coat, as you hold them for a photo it isn’t uncommon for the slime to actually goop off and hit the deck. Make sure you clean it off as it will become a slip hazard if left on the deck. Currently there are no regulations on them and they are quite plentiful if you can find them.

Misty Grouper

misty grouper caught deep drop fishing in marathon fl keys
This guy is a beast. Misty grouper, not top choice for eating but a great catch while deep drop fishing.

Misty Grouper are found from 700-2000 feet of water on just about all structures. This grouper are primarily found in the Bahamas but occasionally I have caught a few here in the States. They are usually very deep and are found where the Silk Snapper are as that is their natural forage food.

I use big hooks and big baits for them and currently the regulations is one per harvester with conjunction with your grouper aggregate limit. They aren’t the best eating but not bad, definitely good for frying as they too tend to have very firm texture.

From the Photo my friend and Captain Blain Lemn accompanied my group to the Bahamas where we caught this fish. Misty Grouper are easily identified by its large striped pattern.

Black Belly Rosefish

black belly rosefish caught deep drop fishing in FL Keys
No words to describe…

Black Belly Rosefish can be found from 600-1500 feet of water on every bottom type. These small fish are all over the place on the bottom and are quite tasty, very similar to Hogfish. They eat just about anything you put down there and there are no regulations for them either.

They look a lot like a small grouper but they are actually related to the Scorpion Fish. Not toxic or poisonous this fish is usually a bycatch when fishing for other species. It gets its name from the lining of the stomach cavity which is a shiny jet black. It is not uncommon to come up with a full stringer of these while fishing the deep water. They don’t fight very hard and a lot of times you don’t even know they are on the line.


swordfish caught daytime swordfishing in fl keys
Imagine reeling for an hour per every 100 pounds of this swordfish. Have you thanked your electric reel today?

Swordfish can be found on ledges and humps from 1100-2600 feet of water. This is one of the greatest pelagic species that live in the ocean. It isn’t uncommon to catch one over 400 pounds. They will eat a variety of baits either on the bottom in the daytime or on the surface at night. Swordfishing in the daytime we fish on the bottom because that’s where their food is and they constantly eat 24 hours a day.

I use large J hooks with the bait sown on to ensure that they don’t knock the bait off as they feed. When Swordfish feed, they use their bill to kill or injure their prey before eating it. They swing their bill smacking the bait many times to subdue it. And for this reason we find by sowing the bait on it will still be on the hook after the Swordfish swats at it.

These fish once hooked take about an hour for every hundred pounds that they weigh to reel in. They have very soft mouths and we lose lots of fish from hooks tearing out. They are so powerful and can swim up to the surface from 2000 feet of water in a matter of minutes, which is a marvel because of the pressure change would kill most fish. Their meat is very sought after and one small fish can yield 50 pounds of meat, so just imagine a 300-600 pound fish yielding.

Marathon Fishing Report: Fall Fishing Bonanza

Fishing the Florida Keys for as many years as I have, my customers and friends all share the same curiosity with one simple question: “What is the best time of the year to fish in the Keys?” Now depending who they were I would answer them with a bit of humor. My friends most of the time are always following me on Facebook and seeing what I have been catching, but they know that I don’t always post stuff up on Facebook. This still keeps them guessing “what is the best time of the year to fish.”

When choosing the time of the year to call the best you have to think of what species they are after as fish come and go with the seasons and some are here year round but better during certain seasons. The best way to find out is to either call me or check my fish calendar or check out my E-Book. Let me clarify the answer everyone that everyone is looking for. The fall is the best time because we can catch a little bit of everything, sails, dolphin, marlins, cobia, big bottom dwellers, snappers, you name it is here in the fall.

…when they show up you will be glad you have the gear on the boat when you see a beautiful color change or rip just off the reef.

Marathon Fall Fishing Gets Closer Inshore and Favors Fish Other Than Dolphin

In the fall my offshore & deep sea charters in Marathon catch a range of sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, and tuna – a transition away from the loads of dolphin and tuna caught during the summer charters. There won’t be as many dolphin as the summer time, but in the fall there will be tuna, wahoo, kingfish, cobia to pick up the slack. As for the distance in the summertime which is vast ranging from 10-40 miles offshore, the fall time fishing is best along the outer parts of the reef and not exceeding 10 miles from shore in most cases.

Trolling live bait, dead bait or artificial, the fall is a great time to fish in the Keys, especially Marathon because of where we are located we can either fish Florida Bay/Gulf of Mexico or the Florida Straits/Atlantic Ocean. Technically it’s not the Atlantic, but just easier for most people to relate. Now we don’t do much trolling in the Bay because of the grass but drifting or anchoring using live bait, jigs, and lures is very productive. The offshore and reef fishing in the Florida Keys is done primarily the same way just in deeper water where similar applications designed for deeper structures are used.

You may want to get a copy of Sport Fishing Magazine where my deep water bottom application is featured alongside other great bottom fishing captains.

The fall is the best time because we can catch a little bit of everything, sails, dolphin, marlins, cobia, big bottom dwellers, snappers, you name it is here in the fall.

The Sailfish Are Starting to Show & Yellowtail Are Moving to the Reef’s Topside

The fall fishing has been great so far with big catches of dolphin and tuna. The sailfish are just starting to show themselves but wahoo fishing still slow for the meantime. Yellowtail snapper are numerous and the yellow brick road has been paved with decent sized fish in 80-50 feet of water. As we get into the cooler months the yellowtail will leave the deep water, not completely, but the majority and will begin their fall feeding on the topside of the reef.

In the cooler months the use of oats isn’t a necessity but I can help some days. When using oats in the shallower water a constant scatter may ruin your fishing. The main contributor to this is as the water cools off the fish tend to slow down and don’t have voracious appetites and too much food will cause them to fill up. I find keeping them hungry, the bite will last longer, but it’s a fine line between too much and too little. I have found many times I have fed them too much and the only other recourse is to move to another spot.

Here’s What’s Up With Wahoo

As wahoo season quickly nears many people are not prepared for them. Go get your planners, drails, or downriggers ready because when they show up you will be glad you have the gear on the boat when you see a beautiful color change or rip just off the reef. It’s some of the easiest fishing to do and doesn’t cost a lot to do.

High speed or just a normal troll, wahoo can be triggered to strike strips, ballyhoo, mullet and lures. You don’t have to have live bait; these other baits work well too. The key to wahoo fishing when trolling is to cover ground with baits just under the surface. It’s a misnomer that you have to have a bait way down to catch wahoo. As long as you have a good bait swimming under the surface and not skipping your chances of getting a wahoo strike will go up. If you put your bait down too far you will be catching lots of kingfish and that’s fun and all, but if you’re playing around with kingfish you’re not catching wahoo.

Now don’t get me wrong you can still catch wahoo 40-60 feet down, but most of your strikes will be kingfish. I like to use a two hook ballyhoo on a short piece of wire with some sort of dark or bright head or skirt in front. I think color can make the difference, but the color is what catches the fisherman.

Marathon Fishing Report: June 2015

Mutton Mania!

These past few weeks the black grouper bite was absolutely stellar and now we have entered into the mutton spawn where large bio masses of mutton snapper will be gathering on reefs and wrecks. Every trip this week has produced big muttons and happy clients.

I have been fishing wrecks and reefs from 104’-180’ of water while power drifting or anchoring. I find anchoring I am able to produce more but sometimes it is just as productive power drifting. As conditions change so do our tactics. I am always changing the types of bait I use, dead or alive, and different rigs as well because conditions change and when they do the bite changes. I generally use long 30’ leaders in heavy current and shortened leaders when the current drops off. Depending on currents I will use 3-24 oz. of lead to hold bottom.

My leader test can vary depending on what kind of structure I am fishing. I will use light leaders where the sandy spots are clean of debris, because some wrecks have broken up from hurricanes and are scattered all over the bottom around the main structure. Where the wreck has broken up I will use fifty pound floro and on the clean wrecks I will use leader as light as thirty pound test.

I mainly use fifty pound braided rods for fishing these wrecks and reefs because it shows the bite better than monofilament, and so that I can get away with as little weight as possible. I find that it is better to use the lightest weight possible because when the mutton snapper picks up your bait and tugs on the weight he will be less likely to drop it before he gets hooked as it might if it were heavier.

grouper for Marathon fishing report in JuneThis week has been great, easy fishing. Anchoring and re-anchoring, as your location is very important. When anchoring you may have to re-anchor a few times till you gauge the current and wind right. When wind and current are close to equal strength the anchoring becomes very tricky to get right. One minute you are sitting perfect and the wind could let up a few knots and you could swing 100’-400’ away from your spot. But if this happens don’t re-anchor right away because muttons are continuously swimming around the structure or up and down the reef looking for food and avoiding predators.

Sometimes if the fish are moving around a lot you may be alright with the swing, but after an hour with no bites I would adjust your location. If the wind is fluctuating a lot it may be better to power drift instead of anchoring. This week I re-anchored on average about three times in each spot I fished because of the fluctuating wind velocity. When you have four or more people onboard it may be best to anchor but with fluctuating wind speeds you might be more productive power drifting with two people.

Fish caught on June fishing charter in Marathon FL for reportI have yellow tailed this week a bit with great success. Fishing the deeper water I have been averaging two pound yellowtail and some groupers and muttons. But mainly when fishing for yellowtail I stayed focused on them to keep up with their pick habits. Yellowtail snapper can be some of the pickiest eaters when the water is clean and warm.

Using plenty of oats and chum we can lead them to believe they are safe. But in fact they were not, as my anglers were pouncing on them by changing bait constantly and following the school. Sometimes to get the bigger yellowtail my clients had to fish one rod at a time, but catching one every ten minutes vs not catching any because of one too many lines in the water is a winner in my book. While fishing for yellowtail I would let the rest of my clients fish the bottom for muttons and groupers, where they did fantastic. I had many days where we were limited out by 11:00AM on grouper.

Don’t forget to book me in advance this summer as most of my days are taken a month in advance, I will have a few days available.