Back country bangin’ the black drum

Kevin Piechowiak from Peatwater, Michigan shows off a big 20-pound black drum caught with live shrimp. Fishing with Capt. Mike Makowski, he also caught lots more smaller black drum, redfish, snapper, sheepshead and seatrout.
Kevin Piechowiak from Peatwater, Michigan shows off a big 20-pound black drum caught with live shrimp. Fishing with Capt. Mike Makowski, he also caught lots more smaller black drum, redfish, snapper, sheepshead and seatrout.

Cooler temperatures really turned on the bite this past week both offshore and in the backcountry. 

The breeze has made conditions offshore rough just about every day, but those who headed out found a great bite making the trip well worth it. 

Capt. Jon Reynolds and his crew aboard the Drop Back out of the Post Card Inn Resort and Marina at Holiday Isle reports a fantastic kingfish bite this week with big fish averaging 30-40 pounds mixed in with smaller ones 10-20 pounds. They were caught with live baits like cigar minnows and speedos just off the reef edge. 

There have been a handful of wahoos caught in the same area as the kings but not like the numbers they experienced last month. As for the sailfish bite, Capt. Jon stated “the sails are chewing,” meaning a great bite happening along the reef edge from Miami to Marathon. Live baits like ballyhoo or big pilchards either slow trolled or suspended under a kite have been producing multiple hook ups daily, in addition to a few dolphin and blackfin tuna.

The shallower water patch reefs in 15-30 feet have been a popular choice this week for those with smaller vessels. There is still a lot of hogfish, mutton snapper and porgies being caught in areas from Key Largo to Caloosa rocks off Lower Matacumbe. A little chum and live shrimp fished on the bottom has been the best way to fish for a wide variety of species. Remember to pick up a current copy of the local fishing regulations before you go out as every trip to the patches brings a few surprises on board.

Mackerel fishing in Florida Bay continues to be very productive with fish averaging 3-6lbs caught while chumming over areas with broken bottom. Live baits like shrimp and pilchards are the hot ticket, however when the bite really turns on spoons and ¼-1/2 ounce jig heads tipped with shrimp work as good. Mixed in with the macks have been snapper, sharks, jacks and a few cobias.

In the backcountry the cold and wind has many anglers headed to the deeper protected waters around the Cape Sable area where the bite has not been red hot but there have been some large quality fish caught that make the trip totally worth it. Black drum up to 30 pounds are being caught with live shrimp either fished on the bottom with a knocker rig or with 3/8-1/2 chartreuse jig heads tipped with live shrimp. The best eating black drum are the 14- to 20-inch fish. Drum over 15 pounds tend to be packed with worms. They are fun to catch but are great candidates for release. Unless you like eating fish packed with worms, in that case you are allowed one black drum over 24-inches per person. 

Mixed in with the drum have been redfish, sheepshead, snook and the unavoidable catfish. 

I know that I have not mentioned bonefish in a while. But the recent reports have been very positive, with those choosing to hunt the gray ghosts on the flats finding some measure of success. Live shrimp or small crabs are the bait of choice for those bait slingers out there. 

Fly fisherman have been having success with shrimp and crab patters that closely match the color of the bottom where they are finding the bones. As always, flats with lots of life in the form of rays and sharks have been great indicators of productive areas. 

If you pole a flat and do not encounter any rays or sharks, it may be a sign that you should move to another area.

The 30th annual CCA Key Chapter banquet is taking place Feb. 19 at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier. If you have not purchased tickets, then now is the time! The CCA is one of the few organizations that fight for your rights as anglers to continue to fish and enjoy our local waters. The banquet will have a two-hour open bar and dinner catered by the Texas Cattle Company, with over 200 exciting auction and raffle items! 

So come enjoy an event where every dollar you spend goes towards protecting our fishery for generations to come. For information and tickets please contact either Tom Tharp (305) 451-5044 or Dianne Harbaugh (305) 522-4868. You can also get more information about this event online at www.ccaflorida.org/cca-florida-chapters/keys. Hope to see you there!

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.