Lots of tunas found offshore, backcountry comes alive

Lyndsey Monk shows off one of five big snook caught with live bait. This was her first snook of the year, in addition to lots a jacks, snappers and a few tarpon.
Lyndsey Monk shows off one of five big snook caught with live bait. This was her first snook of the year, in addition to lots a jacks, snappers and a few tarpon.

If you were around any of the local marinas in the Upper Keys this week and saw a bald headed backcountry guide dancing around his boat on the way back to the dock, that was me! 

Finger mullet are here! Get ready! From the backcountry to the reef edge and beyond, fishing has been great all over the Upper Keys this past week.

Offshore, the tunas can be found in numbers around the humps and deeper wrecks, having live bait will give you the best chances of catching numbers. In the absences of live bait, trolling small 2- to 3-inch feathers colors black/purple and black/red or dropping butterfly or vertical jigs with an erratic retrieve have been productive. The main problem most anglers have is beating the sharks to the boat. With the tuna’s come the sharks as most have found out this week.

I got the rare chance to accompany a good buddy of mine who was in town to get married on an offshore trip with Capt. Jon Reynolds and his crew aboard the Drop Back out of the Post Card Inn Marina at Holiday Isle. For this particular trip, Capt. Jon worked the pit while his buddy Capt. Tyler Coffman took over as the captain for this particular trip. We began our morning catching live baits like small blue runners and Spanish sardines, we seemed to catch more moon jellies than bait on every throw of the net. But after a few more throws, we were ready to head offshore. 

These baits proved to be crucial, as most of the dolphin we caught were because of them. Heading out 17 miles, we found decent weed lines that were holding fish. Again, bird activity directed us to the most productive areas. We trolled rattle-jets and smoker’s colors blue/white and pink/white when traveling between weed patches picking up a 30-pound cow, 20-plus-pound skipjack and a few small blackfin tunas. 

Most of the 40 dolphin we caught were heavy lifters with a few smaller and larger fish mixed in. It was a real treat to be aboard the Drop Back again. I am always impressed by the professionalism, cleanliness, and great attitude of Capt. Jon Reynolds and his crew. Plus they are one of the few boats out there with drink holders in their fighting chairs.\

The backcountry has really come alive due to the slightly cooler temperatures and loads of bait around. Schools of pilchards and pinfish have been all over Florida Bay recently, and now the fall finger mullet run has arrived. Schools of these 2- to 4-inch mullet have moved into our area bringing with them tarpon, jacks, big snappers, groupers, snook, redfish, etc. With a live well full of these baits, any point, pass or bridge with moving water will hold fish this time of year. Most of the outflows from the mainland have been holding good numbers of fish as well, again live bait is the thing to have but artificial lures and flies mimicking live baits work almost as good. 

The third annual Cheeca Lodge All American Backcountry Fishing Tournament will begin Nov. 13 through Saturday Nov. 15. This is an all-release tournament for tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook and redfish. All proceeds will benefit the Guides Trust Foundation, a local organization that assists Florida Keys fishing guides in times of need in addition to awarding scholarships to local students.  

For more information about the Tournament rules or to acquire additional entry forms, contact Julie Olsen at (305) 517-4449 or email jolsen@cheeca.com.

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 captmikemakowski5@gmail.com or call (305) 481-0111.