We hope Santa brought you the new rod and reel you wanted because there’s some great fishing out there. And this is your last chance for grouper for 2016, as the season is closed Jan. 1 to April 30.
We continue to find the most productive fishing in the nearshore areas on both the Atlantic and gulf/bay side of the islands. Closest in on the oceanside, the bridges, patch reefs and Hawk Channel show the usual wintertime variety of snappers, groupers, mackerels, porgies and yellowjacks. These venues offer fast-paced fishing in relatively calm waters perfect for families, novices and anyone who wants to load up on great-tasting and fun-catching fish.
Fishing on the reef for yellowtail snapper remains very good in the 30- to 60-foot areas. There are nice muttons in the same areas as well as quality black grouper on the bottom. The yellowtails eat an assortment of cut baits and live shrimp. The muttons and groupers are partial to live pilchards.
And if you’re looking to fire up your smoker, there are smaller kings — five pounds or so — and cero mackerel in these shallow areas. The Atlantic wrecks hold good numbers of kingfish plus mutton snapper in the eight- to 12-pound class. Pinfish, pilchards and ballyhoo work well.
Fishing outside the reef edge in 100 to 300 feet of water is consistent for a variety of species. Sailfish and kingfish dominate the shallower areas in 100 to 150 feet, while wahoo and blackfin tuna are traveling the deeper areas from 140 to 300-plus feet. Sprinkled throughout are dolphin ranging in size from sub-legal fish to specimens in the 15- to 20-pound class.
Live-baiting with pilchards, ballyhoo, goggle eyes and small bluerunners provides the most action for all these species. Trolling also works for the wahoo and dolphin. Florida Bay offers plenty of mangroves, Spanish mackerel and sharks. Further out in the gulf, there’s loads of action on snappers, jacks, groupers, king mackerel and a few cobia. Your baits of choice are live pilchards, pinfish and shrimp.
Tune in next week as we will review a number of regulation changes going into effect on Jan. 1. Meanwhile, from the entire crew at SeaSquared Charters, thank you for reading our columns this year. Here’s to bountiful fishing in 2017.
The week’s best
The SeaSquared boats fished near-shore all week, with our guests coming home with snappers, groupers, yellowjacks, kingfish, Spanish mackerel, porgies and more. On breezy days, we stuck to the bridge and bay waters and caught bull sharks up to 250 pounds plus snappers and Spanish mackerel. As always, for daily catch pictures, please visit Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.
Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters in Marathon. You can reach him at (305) 743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.