Permit showing up in big numbers on the patches

David Dombrowski from California shows off his first ever permit, caught while fishing the patch reefs off Key Largo with Capt. Mike Makowski of Blackfoot Charters.
David Dombrowski from California shows off his first ever permit, caught while fishing the patch reefs off Key Largo with Capt. Mike Makowski of Blackfoot Charters.

Winter is back with a vengeance this week as temperatures drop to their lowest point yet here in the Florida Keys. Along with the colder temperatures has been lots of wind that was a factor in everybody’s fishing plan this week.

Offshore the almost daily changing weather conditions have led to a mostly inconsistent bite with some days good and others slow.

Overall, the sailfish bite has been good for those fishing live baits like ballyhoo and goggle eyes along the reef edge in 110 to 150 feet.

Filling in the time between the sails have been blackfin tuna between 5 and 15 pounds, wahoo, and more and more smoker kingfish in the 30-plus-pound range caught daily. Tuna fishing on the humps and deeper wrecks has been very productive for those who could get out. They report good amounts of tunas 10 to 20 pounds and larger. The most productive boats have been fishing with live pilchards and not having as many shark encounters as previous weeks.

While others have been having success trolling small 2- to 3-inch black/purple feathers way behind the prop wash or working butterfly jigs over the humps.

On the reef, when glory fishing for sailfish has been slow, most have chosen to bottom fish the reef for yellowtail and mutton snapper in 60 to 120 feet.

Fresh cut ballyhoo or speedos has been the best bait for the muttons when the live ones run out.

Remember, grouper are out of season and can’t be kept until May 1. 

The shallower patch reefs in 15 to 30 feet from Islamorada to Key Largo have been fishing better than previous weeks with an assortment of mangrove, lane, mutton and yellowtail snappers.

Live shrimp is the best bait to use covering the widest range of species on the patches. Species like hogfish, porgy, mackerel, yellow jack, triggerfish, grouper and permit have all been caught on the patches this week in good numbers.

In the backcountry, the fishing is finally starting to fall into the typical winter pattern. Many anglers choose to endure the rough ride across the bay to take refuge in the shallow water creeks and channels around Cape Sable and Lake Ingram this week. Fishing the bottom of these areas with live shrimp led to good amounts of redfish, snook, sheepshead, mangrove snappers and black drum up to 20 pounds.

Just a warning to those fishermen out there who happen to catch a 20-pound black drum or larger. These larger drum typically will carry LOTS of worms in their bodies causing many to just throw away the fish.

Instead, keep the smaller ones and release the larger ones.

Shrimp either fished whole or tipped on jigs have both been productive ways to fish these areas. Even during this time of year you can still catch tarpon, but only on certain days right now. On the warmer days tarpon (40-70 pounds) are being caught in Whitewater/Ponce De Leon bays by anglers throwing top-water lures and darker flies.

In the Gulf, the Spanish mackerel bite has been strong with fish averaging 2 to 4 pounds and larger ones up to 7 pounds caught every trip. Mixed in with the mackerel have been 2- to 4-pound mangrove snappers, jacks and the occasional cobia.

A few tripletail between 4 and 8 pounds have been caught around the crab buoys on live shrimp. Expect their numbers to increase in the coming weeks. Look for bird activity and areas of structure to be the most productive areas.

The Keys Chapter of the CCA will hold its 31st Annual Banquet and Auction Feb. 18 at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier, mile marker 92, bayside. Come and enjoy a relaxed social setting while meeting local anglers and guides as you sign up for over 200 silent and Chinese raffle items. Items like fishing apparel, jewelry, fishing tackle, marine themed art, boating accessories and much more are available.

Enjoy a two-hour open bar and a delicious steak dinner prepared by the Texas Cattle Company. All event proceeds go to support CCA Florida in marine conservation efforts. Tickets are only $85 per individual, which includes an annual membership and the cost of the open bar and dinner, and $160 per couple, also including membership, the open bar, and dinner. Contact any of the people below for details on purchasing a sponsor table for 10 guests.

Tickets are selling out fast and will not be offered at the door. You must buy or reserve tickets in advance to secure your seat. For more information contact either Matt Behem (561) 644-2788, or Dianne Harbaugh at (305) 522-4868. 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.