Rise to the sailfish challenge

Tom from Michigan caught this nice red grouper on 15-pound tackle while fishing with Capt. Ariel Medero and Big Game Sportfishing.
Tom from Michigan caught this nice red grouper on 15-pound tackle while fishing with Capt. Ariel Medero and Big Game Sportfishing.

Although the persistent high winds of late have made it a challenge, if you can get to the reef, there are sailfish to be caught, with a smattering of dolphin mixed in. Most fish are either up on top of the reef in 20 to 30 feet of water or out to the 130- to 140-foot depths.

By far, the best bait is ballyhoo, and this will most likely hold true into January. Pilchards or cigar minnows will work in a pinch, but the sailfish are keyed into the ballyhoo in a big way right now.

The snapper bite continues to be excellent, with the largest of the muttons coming off the wrecks in 120 to 250 feet of water. There also have been a few grouper picked off the wrecks, mostly large blacks. The best baits are pilchards and live ballyhoo.

Fishing for yellowtail snapper on the reef is also first-rate, with all depth ranges from 20 to 100 feet producing catches. The deeper you fish, the larger the yellowtail. There are some mutton snapper mixed in along with plenty of grouper, mostly blacks, but also the occasional gag and red.

The patch reefs and Hawk Channel offer their standard variety of snapper, grouper, hogfish, cero and Spanish mackerel, and the random kingfish. Shrimp is your No. 1 bait choice, but small pilchards will also do the trick.

Bayside, the mangrove snapper bite remains outstanding, and the Spanish mackerel are thick  Chunks of pinfish or small live pinfish work best for the mangs, while the Spanish macks take shrimp-tipped jigs with abandon. A small trace of No. 4 or No. 5 wire in front of your jig will keep you from getting cut off.

Further out in the gulf, the king mackerel are becoming more prevalent, with some in the 30-pound class. Large live baits, such as small Spanish mackerel, one- to two-pound bluefish and good-size bluerunners work best. Fish your bait under a kite or a float of some kind to keep it out of the bottom.

Large numbers of sharks are in the bay and gulf areas. Blacktips, spinners and the occasional lemon are taking the same baits as the kings. And there is abundant action on the gulf wrecks for cobia, grouper and snapper.

The week's best catches

With the wind a-whipping, the SeaSquared boats stayed close to shore and fished the patches, Hawk Channel and the bay and bridge areas. Our anglers put together very respectable catches of hogfish, all the snapper variety, Spanish mackerel, kingfish, porgy and a few grouper.

Capt. Ariel Medero, of Big Game Sportfishing in Marathon, reports there are sailfish, a few dolphin and tuna, plus kingfish offshore if you can make it there. On the reef, there's a great bite for mangroves, muttons, groupers and mackerel in 20 to 50 feet of water. And the gulf is active with mackerel, snappers and a few cobia.

Capt. Chris Johnson is a member of the Yamaha National Fishing Team and specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters in Marathon. You can reach him at 743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.