It is mid September and the fishing is still going strong for those who were able to get out this past week either offshore or in the backcountry.
Those who found success this week started the day with a flexible plan of attack, with the weather being the deciding factor as to what area to fish and when. Fortunately, there have been lots of options for anglers, with snook season going on strong inshore, plenty of dolphin and tuna offshore and lots in between.
Out past the reef line it has been business as usual with good amounts of dolphin and tuna available for those willing to make the run 15-25 miles out. Having live baits on board pretty much guarantees a bite when encountering picky fish, but those feather draggers out there have been catching their share to.
Trolling naked ballyhoo with pink/white or blue/white skirts has been very effective for dolphin around weed lines and current rips.
Blackfin tunas have been averaging 5 to 20 pounds around the humps and wrecks all over the Upper Keys. They’ve been caught with live baits for those who take the time to catch them, or small 2- to 3-inch-black/purple feathers trolled way back behind the prop wash. The swordfish bite has been going strong with just about every boat attempting it coming back to the dock with loaded coolers. Most swords have been averaging 70-120 pounds, with larger fish up to 400 pounds always a real possibility. Baits like fresh squid, tuna, and bonito provide the best results.
Closer to shore, the reef fishing has been reliably good, with grouper, snapper and kingfish becoming more available everyday.
Those catching keeper groupers and sizable mutton snappers have been bottom fishing live baits like grunts, pinfish and speedos around wrecks, reefs and ledges from 110 to 200 feet with regularity.
Yellowtail snapper fishing has been great if you can find the right amount of current to fish. This week saw daily changes in the intensity and distance of the Gulf Stream from the reef line, making it difficult to find that sweet spot to fish.
Those who did caught good amounts of tails in addition to kingfish, mackerel and bonito on light tackle. Hogfish remain closed in all federal waters until Jan. 1. Recreational anglers can still harvest hogfish in state waters. Always know the waters you plan on fishing. If you every have any doubt, just release your fish and avoid a costly fine.
The backcountry has been a busy place these past few weeks, with a few tournaments taking place almost every weekend. For the most part fishing has been good, with the morning bite far superior to the afternoon action.
There are still some sizable tarpon being caught around the outer fringes of Florida Bay, however, their numbers vary from day to day.
Those who are set on catching these tarpon have been doing so with live and dead mullet. The bait is effective for blacktip and lemon sharks too.
Smaller size tarpon — 5 to 10 pounds — are being caught around the Flamingo and Cape Sable areas with live shrimp or top water lures.
Small snook are being caught in numbers, but finding that legal size fish has been a challenge for most. Live baits like pinfish, mullet and pilchards work best for big snook around deeper shorelines. However, artificial lures like top water and soft jerk baits colors white or black/silver are known producers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call (305) 481-0111.