As the leaves change color around much of the country, so too does the fishing change here in the areas of the Upper Keys during November.
Offshore, the reef fishing kicked off to a strong start at the start of the month. Historically, the mackerel, snapper and grouper will all be on the move this month as we experience the first real cold fronts of the season.
The patch areas of coral in 20 feet of water can be just as active as the main reef edge in depths of 80 feet or more.
Yellowtail snapper are generally happy to see you when you put that chum bag over in the morning. They have been coming right up to the bag lately and it’s easy to see as the "gin-clear" water is common this time of year, especially at the patches.
Ballyhoo are thick near many of the patches around Alligator Light off Islamorada. Cero mackerel are close on their tails. To catch some of these toothy critters, you'll want to use a small piece of #2 wire with either a live ballyhoo or pilchard.
Captain Paul Ross guided his anglers during a sailfish trip last week to a 54-pound, telephone pole-like, and extremely toothy wahoo. As luck would have it, they landed the bruiser wahoo using a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader fished from the kite. A memorable accomplishment.
Speaking of sailfish, there were several caught last week. Some boats caught more than one.
I look for sailfish to show up along our reef's edge more and more as Thanksgiving approaches. Speaking of Thanksgiving, I can remember soaking and stuffing a 20-pound mutton snapper in place of a turkey. Which leads to the next report we got about the mutton snappers.
The party boat Miss Islamorada caught more than 20 keeper mutton snappers in one trip last week off Islamorada. Many of those fish were caught on a good old "knocker rig" with a fresh chunk of ballyhoo. A knocker rig is one of the simplest rigs to make for bottom fishing. You simply slide an egg sinker of your desired weight up your line and then tie a hook on. I use a uni-knot, palomar, or a fisherman’s knot to tie my hook on. All three are the finest kind of knots. Pick the knot you're most comfortable with. You could catch everything on a knocker rig from grunts to cobias to black fin tunas to snapper and so on.
A knocker rig is also a rig that will work both offshore and in the backcountry, even on the flats. I've seen some of the best bonefish guides in the world slide an eighth-ounce sinker up the line in front of an "ok crab" or live shrimp. I love fishing, and I like to make it as simple as possible.
I think the most important part about it though is that you are in front of them. The presentation is crucial, but it makes no difference how pretty it is if they're not there to see your presentation. I guess I'm just a simple man.
Keep it simple this week. Let me know what you get into.
Capt. Donald Deputy writes for The Reporter every other week. Reach him direct at email@example.com with your personal fish tales and photos.