Windy conditions have led to mixed results both offshore and out back; Islamorada Shark Fly Tournament coming soon

Capt. Sam Ellis and crewman Benny Spaulding hold a queen snapper caught on the PlayBaby!
Capt. Sam Ellis and crewman Benny Spaulding hold a queen snapper caught on the PlayBaby!

Non-consistent weather conditions, with the wind and temperatures fluctuating almost daily have led to a mixed bag of action both offshore and in the backcountry. 

Good numbers of shrimp have been running at night through the passes and channels leading from the bayside to the oceanside from Key Largo and Islamorada. Live shrimp has been the go to bait as of late both in the backcountry and on the reef. 

Offshore, the sailfishing has been good, then bad, depending on the wind direction and temperatures. Those who have been targeting the sails have also been catching blackfin tuna, bonito and dolphin. 

Most fish are averaging 5 to 10 pounds, with a few larger fish up to 20 pounds caught while drifting or kite fishing with live baits just off the reef edge. 

To the north, Capt. Dana Banks and his crew aboard the War Bird out of the Ocean Reef Club have also had good and bad days targeting sailfish. They’re catching blackfin, kingfish and a few mackerel just off the reef edge with live ballyhoo and cigar minnows. Capt. Chan Warner and his crew aboard the party boat Gulfstream out of the Key Largo Fisheries have been experiencing a great kingfish bite all week long. Kings averaging 10 to 15 pounds have been the norm while fishing in 130 feet from the Elbow to Molasses Reef with fresh dead ballyhoo on a triple hook rig and light wire. 

The patch reefs in 10 to 40 feet from Ocean Reef to Lower Matacumbe have been the most consistent action by far with numbers of hogfish, snappers both mangrove and mutton, groupers (out of season until May 1), porgies and assorted reef fish. Providing lots of rod bending action on light tackle, live shrimp has been the bait of choice, fished on the bottom with a knocker rig while chumming. Every patch reef is a different animal in regards to the species you catch on it. I typically will fish a patch for an hour before moving on. If you start catching LOTS of grunts or small yellowtails, just pick up and move to another patch until you start catching the species you are after. 

In the backcountry, the redfish, black drum and sheepshead bite has been the most consistent going. Areas with deep water, like East Cape Canal and its surrounding creeks, have been producing good numbers of these species. Live shrimp fished on the bottom with chartreuse ¼- to 3/8-ounce jig heads or 2/0- to 3/0-circle hooks with enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom has been the best way to fish when fishing the dirty waters of the Capes. 

The snook bite was also good this past week around the mainland outflows along the north shore of Florida Bay. Live shrimp has been the ticket. When hooked through the head and jigged along the bottom, this has led to several mangrove snappers and jacks. Shrimp pattern flies and 4- to 6-inch white jerk baits have also worked to catch most species.

I had a rare opportunity to go fishing on my birthday last week with Capt. Mark Johnson and good friend sculptor David Wirth. Capt. Mark took us shark fishing on fly, and it was a blast! Together we hooked five big sharks, landing three over just a few hours. 

Capt. Mark runs the Islamorada Shark Fly Tournament, which is in its sixth year and will be held March 3-5 out of the Angler House Marina (formally La Siesta Marina). If you have never done this type of fishing, you need to experience it first hand. 

For more information about the tournament please contact Capt. Mark at (305) 393-0900; email tailspincharters@hotmail.net; or check out the tournament website at www.islamoradasharkfly.com. 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.