Water temperatures offshore have not been the most ideal conditions for sailfish, so the fishing has been fair with most boats catching a fish or two a day, with some luckier than others.
Due to the warmer temperatures, there have been a few more dolphin around than previously experienced, most averaging 5 to 15 pounds, caught while fishing the color change or random weed lines moving through the area.
Around the wrecks, reefs and areas of structure, the kingfish have been holding steady. Fish averaging 10 to 15 pounds are the norm with much larger fish 30lbs plus always a possibility. In addition to the kings have been blackfin tuna, bonito, mutton snapper, almaco/amberjacks, and a few wahoo.
Those fishing the reef in 80 to 120 feet have been experiencing a pretty reliable yellowtail snapper bite while producing a healthy chum slick. A good bottom machine will help you locate the schools before you start fishing and help guarantee success. While catching yellowtails, most boats have also been encountering mutton and mangrove snappers of mixed sizes, mackerel, triggerfish, bonito, dolphin, groupers and sharks. If the sharks move in just pull anchor and move to the next spot.
The patch reefs in 15 to 40 feet have been very reliable for the past few weeks with lots of snappers (lane, mangrove, mutton, yellowtail), porgies, hogfish, groupers (red, black, and gag), sharks, jacks and assorted reef fish. Live or dead shrimp and pilchards continue to be the best baits that cover a wide variety of species for those who are looking to bend a rod while catching some dinner. Last week, I had an angler catch several African pompano while fishing the patches. So you never know what you are going to catch.
Out in the Gulf, the mackerel fishing has been decent with some days much better than others; we still need a good cold front to really turn this action on. However, most mackerel are averaging 2 to 4 pounds, caught on shrimp-tipped jigs with light wire leaders.
Along with the mackerel have been jacks, mangrove snappers, ladyfish and sharks showing up in the chum slick. Some days with the cleaner water, the mackerel can become leader shy. For this, try fishing a whole live shrimp on a long shank hook with 30-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader while suspended under a bobber. This will result in more bites but a few cut offs, so bring a few hooks.
In the backcountry, those having the most successful days have had to go deep into the park fishing areas like Cape Sable and the creeks between Northwest Cape and Shark River. They’re reporting good amounts of snook, black drum sheepshead, snappers and a few redfish. The fish were caught while fishing shrimp or cut ladyfish chunks on the bottom or working artificial lures, like weedless spoons and jerk baits colors black/silver flake or white, around areas with structure and current.
According to the future weather forecast, looks like we may finally have some cold weather that should stick around for more than one day. This will be a welcome change and should really turn on the bite both offshore and in the backcountry. Now I am NO weatherman, so do not hold me to that, but here’s hoping.
For those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish more often in 2017!
Capt. Mike Makowski is a backcountry fishing guide and owner of Blackfoot Charters in Key Largo. His column appears biweekly. To send him fishing reports or photos, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (305) 481-0111.