The holiday weeks delivered outstanding fishing nice and close to home
Blackfin tuna are biting very well on the deeper wrecks just off the reef edge in 150 to 250 feet of water. Most fish are in the 10- to 20-pound class, but some have been as big as 30 pounds. This bite has been consistent Keyswide, not just in isolated locations.
Mixed in with the blackfins are lots of king mackerel averaging 10 to 12 pounds plus some impressive wahoo at 50 to 60 pounds. The kingfish limit has been increased to three per person in Monroe County, so now is a great time to load up your smoker.
This is a fishery you need to work at a bit in that it entails live baiting and live chumming with pilchards. And, your rig will vary depending on your target species.
For the blackfin tuna, use smallish live bait hooks, such as 1/0 and 2/0, and 30-pound fluorocarbon. For the kings and wahoo, you need slightly larger hooks, but nothing bigger than 4/0, a trace of No. 5 wire and 40-pound fluoro.
The technique to deploy is to drift over wrecks or rough bottom areas and, as you get close to your target spot, throw scoops of pilchards over the sides. You need at least 500 pilchards or you’re wasting your time. Hopefully, the fish come up busting and find your hooked baits.
You may also encounter some random dolphin. But, most definitely, be on the lookout for sailfish, as they are often attracted by the noise created when the tuna bust the bait. In addition, keep a live bait on the bottom, as the mutton snapper bite has been consistently good, with lots fish in the 12- to 15-pound range.
There are plenty of large amberjacks on the wrecks as well, but the season is closed so they must all be released. Nevertheless, they’re a lot of fun to wrangle.
We’re in our wintertime up-and-down mode for the yellowtail snapper bite in the 50- to 80-foot depths on the reef. We have a couple of warm days when the bite is good. Then a passing cold front sends the bite into a slump for a day or two. Then, we’re back to warm and back to catching. And so on.
An abundance of cero mackerel and mutton snappers are mixed in with the yellowtails on the reef. Groupers too but, as of January first, all groupers are closed until May 1. Hope you got your last one of the season on New Year’s Eve!
A more consistent bite for snappers and other pan fish is in Hawk Channel. Expect lanes, mangroves, yellowtails and some keeper muttons. Keep in mind, in state waters the minimum size for muttons is 18 inches and five fish per person, whereas it’s 16 inches and 10 per person in federal waters. Along with the snappers are porgies, cero and Spanish mackerel and the occasional king.
Shrimp is the ticket here, and you’ll want to fish your bait on the bottom around the coral heads. For the largest of the mangroves and lanes, however, small live pilchards work best. For the mackerel, use a jighead with a small trace of wire and a shrimp cast well back into your slick and retrieved rapidly back to the boat to elicit a strike. Or, you can live chum pilchards to get them busting on top.
There is a new closure for hogfish this year, so any you catch must be returned unharmed. There is no keeping of hogfish until May 1 and, at that time, the limit will be one fish per person with a size of 16 inches to the fork of the tail. The new open season will run May through October.
Florida Bay is offering up a ton of entertainment with Spanish mackerel, mangroves, bluefish, jack crevalles, Goliath grouper, a few cobia and lots of sharks.
The week’s best
The holiday guests on the SeaSquared boats saw loads of action at the bridges and on the reef for groupers, all the snapper species, blackfins, kingfish, cero and Spanish mackerel, amberjacks, yellowjacks plus lots of sharks.
Capt. Kevin Wilson of Knee Deep Charters out of the Geiger Key Marina and his holiday guests caught king mackerel, black and red groupers, a rock hind, flag yellowtails, gray triggerfish and mangroves and had fun releasing sharks, including a big hammerhead that was trying to eat their snappers.
Free fishing seminar
Capt. Chris Johnson hosts a series of free fishing seminars at the Hyatt Place/Faro Blanco resort, mile marker 48 bayside, this season. The third in the monthly series takes place Feb. 6 with the topic “Yellowtailing 101”. 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.