Early cold fronts kicked fishing into high gear

Tom Prazan and Brian Bartling, visiting from Nebraska, had a fun day on the waters off Key Largo with Capt. Lee Lavery aboard her boat Ladyfish last week.
Tom Prazan and Brian Bartling, visiting from Nebraska, had a fun day on the waters off Key Largo with Capt. Lee Lavery aboard her boat Ladyfish last week.

A few cold fronts into our typical winter weather pattern and the fishing offshore and in the backcountry has really been kicked up a notch. 

Offshore, Capt Jon Reynolds and his crew aboard the Drop Back was one of several boats out of the Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle Marina that had a great week fishing off the reef line.  He reported good numbers of sailfish this week around the Islamorada area chasing baits and free jumping (most boats that targeted the sails caught one if not a few). Finding bait has been pretty easy aboard the Drop Back lately with tons of pilchards, cigar minnows and ballahoo found on the shallower patch reefs in 15-30 feet. 

Slow trolling live baits off the reef’s edge has produced blackfin tuna, kingfish, cero mackerel, cobia, wahoo and lots of bonito. Bottom fishing while chumming has been hot with a mixed bag of mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, grouper, cobia, mackerel, mangrove snapper and assorted reef fish. 

Off Key Largo, Capt. Lee Lavery of the Upper Keys Fishing Club had the opportunity to fish with fellow club member Tom (Bottom Banger) Prazen and his friend Brian Bartling visiting from Nebraska. Fishing the bottom with fresh cut bait resulted in several grouper of mixed sizes, mangrove snapper and mutton snapper, one which was 25 inches. 

When targeting the yellowtail snapper they drifted silver sides back in the chum slick, this also lead to several mackerel and mangrove snappers. 

In the backcountry, big schools of finger mullet can be found moving throughout Florida Bay this week from Key Largo to Flamingo. The bait’s attracting tarpon, jacks, snook, redfish and just about every other species. Easy to spot, you just look for exploding water, bird activity or nervous water. 

Most of these baits are 4 to 7 inches long. So in the absence of live bait, 5- to 7-inch jerk baits or small 4- to 7-inch top water lures colors black/white, white, or silver, have been effective. 

Those boats that fished the channels around Flamingo and Cape Sable area caught good numbers of sheepshead, black drum, redfish, jacks, snapper, ladyfish and snook. Live shrimp fished on the bottom with a ¼-3/8 ounce chartreuse jig head during the lower stages of the tide has produced lots of action in the backcountry.

Mackerel fishing in Florida Bay got a little better this week with several boats reporting a decent bite. While there is not a ton of fish yet, the average size has definitely been on the larger-than-normal side of things. 

Live baits like pilchards or pinfish are most desirable, but live shrimp drifted back in your chum slick work almost as well. Remember the most ideal set up is to have the wind and tide moving in the same direction when chumming the bayside. This helps spread your chum line faster over a larger area, bringing more fish to the back of your boat. 

Along with the mackerel have been seatrout, jacks, snappers, sharks, catfish and cobia. 

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.