As we settle into March, let's hope the weather levels out and we're finished with the temperature swings and severe wind.
Sailfishing has definitely improved of late. Pilchards and live ballyhoo are the go-to baits, although a goggle eye on kite has been hard to resist for most of the sails.
There are pretty good numbers of blackfin tuna around with the sails in depths of 120 to 250 feet. And the blackfin bite at the humps has been excellent for those willing to brave the conditions to get there. The largest of the tuna are running 15-plus pounds and have been taken on live baits, mostly pilchards.
On your way to and from the humps, keep your eyes peeled for dolphin because we're just now beginning to see some offshore.
The amberjack and mutton-snapper bite is very good on and around the wrecks. Again, live baits are the ticket, primarily pinfish, pilchards and ballyhoo. For the biggest of the AJs, send down a live bluerunner.
Plenty of king mackerel is in the same areas, with lots of nice size fish in the 20- to 30-pound class. They make excellent fare for the smoker.
Yellowtail snappers are prevalent on the reef, with the depths of 30 to 65 feet the most productive right now. These fish are in the 13- to 16-inch range. Loads of chum and cut baits and ballyhoo are working best.
Fair-size muttons in the five- to 10-pound class are mixed with the yellowtails. To get their attention, drift a large chunk bait back in your slick.
Cero and king mackerel round out the reef catches. The ceros are eating a shrimp-tipped jig head while the kings prefer larger live baits, such as small bluerunners or oversize pilchards.
The patches and channel humps are a mecca for all the snapper varieties -- lane, yellowtail, mangrove and mutton. There is also good hogfish and porgy action on the same spots. A shrimp on a jig head is hard to beat in these areas. Although if you want to target mangroves and muttons exclusively, small live pilchards or pinfish are your best bets.
Mangrove snappers continue to be the catch of the day around the bridges and out in the bay. And there's plenty of shark action on blacktips, spinners, bulls and the occasional lemon.
Further out in the gulf, the cobia action has been worthwhile, with plenty of mangroves and Spanish mackerel filling out the catches. And there have been some jumbo kings caught recently, fish in the 30- to 40-pound class.
The week's best
Dozens of snapper dinners were served up for the guests fishing with SeaSquared Charters last week. Yellowtails, mangroves and muttons filled the coolers on our boats, with yellowjacks, cobia, Spanish and cero mackerel rounding out the catches.
Alan and Jane Cottingham from Duluth, Minn., caught more than 20 sizeable mackerel using light spin tackle consisting of bucktail jibs and eight-pound mono line. They were fishing north of Sprigger Bank with Capt. Chuck Brodzki.
On another outing, Brodzki had Richard and Jan Bell Pollack on board, who hosted their friends from South Africa, Alec and Sylvie Anderson. In 23 feet of water on the patch reefs, they caught a truckload of yellowtails, muttons, cero mackerel and porgy and released many red grouper.
Capt. Kevin Wilson of Knee Deep Charters out of the Geiger Key Marina had a happy foursome on board when they caught a limit of yellowtails with a bonus 30-pound kingfish. The anglers were Charles Updyke and Dave Brown from Lebanon, Ohio; Rick Sevcech from Yulee Fla.; and Richard Todd from Stockton, N.J.
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.