Wow, what a week of fantastic opportunities for anglers here in the Keys. From offshore to the reef, fishing has been red hot!
Offshore the dolphin bite has and continues to be hot with tons of schoolies, numbers of gaffers and several slammers caught daily from Ocean Reef to Marathon. It is a safe bet to say that the hot zone has been between 400 and 600 feet, however, this changes daily as the schools push through. Some days the numbers are out farther and others in closer, but 400 to 600 feet has been a great place to start.
Trolling plugs like rattle-jets, doorknob lures and feathers have found the fish, while chunk bait and whole ballyhoo have caught the numbers. Chunk bait has done great for the smaller fish in the schools, but the larger sometimes “smarter” fish prefer whole dead ballyhoo or live baits like pinfish or pilchards. Colors like green/yellow, pink/white, and blue/white have been the most popular among anglers, but the best leads have been bird activity and debris.
In addition to the dolphin have been mixed numbers of blackfin and skipjack tuna averaging 3 to 6 pounds, with larger fish always a possibility. There’s also been a few random wahoo, caught while targeting the dolphin, so have at least one trolling plug rigged with a wire leader, just in case. When the bite slows, this is a great time of year to do some deep dropping during the hotter parts of the day with chunk bait like squid or bonito strips.
On or just off the reef this has been a banner week for mutton snapper aboard the party boat Gulfstream captained by Chan Warner out of the Key Largo Fisheries. Fishing in and around 150 feet off Key Largo, the Gulfstream caught dozens of keeper muttons this past Friday dodging the rain. The following day, they caught 25 muttons and 15 kingfish, and on Sunday, they caught 65 muttons and 20 kingfish.
Captain Chan reported that ballyhoo and speedos were their main baits while fishing the bottom in one of his double-top-secret spots.
In other areas of the reef, the yellowtail snapper bite off Islamorada has been pretty consistent, with the best bite happening during the early morning hours. Fishing in 80 to 120 feet has also produced mixed numbers of mutton snapper, kingfish, mackerel, jacks, and mixed sizes of red and black grouper.
In the backcountry, the snook and tripletail bite has been good around Cape Sable and the outflows north of Northwest cape. This is good news for snook anglers as season opens Sept. 1 at midnight and ends Dec. 1. Most of the tripletail can be found drifting along the surface and are easy to spot, averaging 4 to 8 pounds. There have been a few fish caught lately pushing 14 pounds.
Live shrimp has been the best bait to have for the tripletail, while live pilchards and pinfish have been the go-to baits for the snook.
Small tarpon have made a good showing in the backcountry averaging 5 to 10 pounds, caught with top water lures and jigs. Larger tarpon are still possible, and your best chances of encountering them have been around the outer, western banks of Everglades National Park like Ox foot and Sandy Key. Fresh dead mullet or ladyfish have been producing tarpon averaging 40 to 80 pounds, with larger fish always possible. However, you may have to deal with a few sharks before you catch silver as some days they have been thick, so bring lots of baits.
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.