The arrival of what might be one of our last good cold fronts was perfect for really turning on the offshore bite and had a positive effect on the backcountry as well.
The only fishing it had a negative effect on was the tarpon fishing, which was getting hot just before the drop in water temperatures. But do not worry. As temperatures begin to rise, so will the tarpon bite. As always there is a lot to cover this week so lets get to it.
The slightly cooler temperatures had a very positive effect on the sailfish bite in 110-160 feet, with several boats reporting multiple hook ups in the days following the cold snap. They were caught with live baits like ballyhoo, speedos and large pilchards either slow trolled or power drifted when the conditions allowed.
Several dolphin were caught as well averaging 5-15 pounds, however, their numbers have been far and few between. Expect them to greatly increase in the coming weeks, as we get closer to April.
Tuna fishing around the Islamorada hump has been very reliable with blackfin and skipjack tunas caught averaging 10-15 pounds and much larger, up to almost 30 pounds.
Live bait fisherman have been reporting the best results, while feather draggers and those using butterfly jigs have been getting their share of the action as well.
Amberjack are being caught on the hump as well as those double top-secret wrecks, with big baits on heavy tackle like bonitos, small tunas and blue runners. If you plan on trying this, I recommend a good fight belt and plenty of Aleve for your shoulders and back after the fight.
Reef fishermen have all been singing the blues, not because the fishing has been slow, but mainly because all the groupers (black, red, and gag) caught in the last few weeks had to be released — that is until May 1, when the 2017 grouper season opens.
Along with the groupers have been plenty of kingfish caught on quarter- to half-ounce ounce jigs with triple hook rigs and fresh dead ballyhoo or cigar minnows. In addition to the groupers and kingfish have been cero mackerel, mutton snapper and the occasional cobia finding its way into the chum slick. Yellowtail snapper have been available, however, the current, wind and water clarity have been the biggest factors as to how productive the bite is. This changes almost daily, so be prepared.
In the gulf several boats had a very productive week targeting Spanish mackerel in 15 to 25 feet over broken bottom or around structure while chumming. The fish were caught on half- or three-eights-ounce jig heads on light wire leaders, either tipped with shrimp or chunk bait like pilchard or ballyhoo. Along with the macks were plenty of lane and mangrove snapper of mixed sizes.
Seatrout are becoming more available around the outer banks of Florida Bay like Blue, Schooner and Ox foot banks. Gulp-tipped jigs colors “new penny” and “molting” are out fishing the shrimp-tipped jigs, catching not only seatrout, but jacks, ladyfish and the almost unavoidable catfish.
Looks like tarpon season will start early again this year, as before the cold front, plenty of big tarpon 60 to 90 pounds were caught around the usual places with live mullet, ladyfish and crabs. While the front shut them down for a day or two, the bite will only get better as water temperatures begin to rise. Smaller tarpon 10 to 40 pounds have been showing up locally around the bridges and islands, with deeper waters around them, just looking for a baitfish pattern fly or live pilchard or shrimp.
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 often!
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.