As we transition into February, fishing for sailfish has settled into consistent action off the edge of the reef. Live pilchards, cigar minnows and ballyhoo are your baits of choice.
There are still good numbers of blackfin tuna and lots of kingfish intermingled in the same areas. However, dolphin fishing has been sporadic. Some days, there's a decent dolphin bycatch and others there are none to be found. Most of these winter dolphin are in the 10- to 15-pound class.
The Atlantic wrecks are offering up a reliable mutton snapper bite. There are lots of fish in the 12- to 15-pound range, with a scattering approaching 20 pounds. Pilchards and pinfish are your go-to baits, although any live bait should attract their interest.
There have been quite a few black grouper caught on the same wrecks. Just remember, they must be released because grouper season is closed until May 1.
Fishing for yellowtail snapper is excellent on the reef in 50 to 80 feet of water. Most fish are in the 15- to 18-inch size, and the usual assortment of cut baits and shrimp do the trick. Mixed in with the yellowtails are some nice muttons.
Along the reef line, you'll find 10- to 15-pound kingfish. Use live baits such as pilchards or shrimp on a jighead. The largest kings have been taken by using a kite with a small to medium bluerunner dangling from it.
Hawk Channel and the patch reefs are providing the usual variety of snappers -- mangroves, lanes, muttons and yellowtails. Shrimp, small pilchards and small pinfish are your baits of choice.
There are also good-size king mackerel patrolling Hawk Channel. Use the same baits for them here as you would on the reef.
Bayside, the Spanish mackerel bite is outstanding, with some decent mangrove action as well when the waters are warm enough. Shrimp on a jighead is the ticket.
The week's best
The SeaSquared boats spent most of the week on the reef, in Hawk Channel and on the patches. Our anglers braved the chilly weather and were rewarded with excellent catches of all the snapper species -- lane, yellowtail, mangrove and mutton -- plus hogfish, porgy, sheepshead and bonus cobia. Phil Olson and Michael Smith from Cottage Grove, Minn., chose bay fishing for one of their trips and brought back a boat load of Spanish mackerel.
Alex Rende from Pelham, N.Y., and his brother-in-law Tom Higgins from Key West had a bumpy day on the reef fishing for yellowtail snapper. Capt. Kevin Wilson from Knee Deep Charters out of the Geiger Key Marina in Key West put them on the yellowtails and got their limit. Alex also landed a sweet 35-pound king mackerel caught on a blue runner on a kite.
Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters in Marathon. You can reach him at (305) 743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.