The passing of our first major cold front of the season should set the stage for exciting winter pelagic fishing.
Specifically, we anticipate increasing numbers of sailfish, king mackerel and cobia moving down to our waters from the north. The cold front also pushes more ballyhoo to the outer edge of the reef. When the pelagics and their favorite food collide, we have spectacular fishing.
The reef edge is where the best action for sailfish takes place. Anywhere from 20 feet on top of the reef out to about 130 feet is sailfish central. Live ballyhoo is the primary bait, with pilchards a close second.
You’ll find the kingfish from the deeper edge of the reef in 90 feet of water out to about 180 to 200 feet. We like to use live pilchards or small bluerunners or cigar minnows to target the kings. If the water is nice and blue, you can expect to come across blackfin tuna, dolphin and even wahoo readily attacking your kingfish baits.
As for the cobia, there’s really no set area to find them. Rather, they’re a target of opportunity. You may catch cobia while snapper fishing on a patch or while dropping on a wreck for muttons. Just about any live bait fished on a jighead and pitched in front of them will work. And, be forewarned, they typically travel in multiples and these oceanside cobia can be quite large in the 40- to 60-pound class.
Fishing for mutton snappers and kingfish on the wrecks remains consistently good. There are plenty of amberjacks as well, but they must be released as the season is closed. Live baits such as pinfish, pilchards and ballyhoo all work well.
On the reef, the yellowtail snapper bite remains strong, with the deeper areas producing the largest fish, as usual. There are ample quantities of fish over 20 inches, including some flags at 24-plus inches.
The shallower edge of the reef, in 30 to 50 feet of water, holds plenty of keeper-size yellowtails along with a mix of medium-size muttons and some mangroves. We’ve also had smaller, five- to ten-pound, kings showing up in the slicks plus some cero mackerel.
Hawk Channel is beginning to yield a wide variety of species, including keeper red and black groupers, all the snappers and mackerel plus porgies. Shrimp and small, live baits, including pilchards and pinfish, work fine for just about everything. Additionally, you can target bigger groupers with bigger baits — large pinfish and small grunts.
The Spanish mackerel have shown up in the eight- to 10-foot depths in Florida Bay. Shrimp and pilchards work great, although you can catch these Spanish on small bucktails or spoons fished rapidly through your slick.
There are plenty of mangroves for the taking in the bay also, with some good ones at three to four pounds.
Capt. Chris Johnson hosts a series of free fishing seminars at the Hyatt Place/Faro Blanco, mile marker 48 bayside, this season. The second in the monthly series takes place Jan. 2 with the topic Hawk Channel. It runs from 6:30 to 8:30 pm and there will be prizes and giveaways.
Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters, docked at Faro Blanco Resort and Yacht Club in Marathon. You can reach him at (305) 743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.