Nice groupers being caught, but release them until May 1

John Wojcik holds a grouper he caught and released in 2017 in the Key Largo backcountry.
John Wojcik holds a grouper he caught and released in 2017 in the Key Largo backcountry.

The wind continues to dominant our local fishery and the effects can be felt from the shallow waters of the backcountry to the deep and turbulent waters found offshore. Even with the windy conditions, the fishing was good for all who ventured out in search of bending a rod or catching dinner

Offshore, strong east winds usually mean that a majority of the fish get pushed in closer to the reef line, and that was the case this week making for shorter runs and more fishing time.

Sailfish continue to be caught just off the reef line in 110-150 feet, with live baits like ballyhoo, pilchards or speedos, typically slow trolled or drifted on flat lines or kites.

The Catch 22 released several nice sailfish earlier in the week while fishing off Tennessee reef, along with a few dolphin and small tunas. Dolphin continue to be caught, however, not in consistent numbers, and those that are caught have been smaller fish averaging 4-8 pounds. This is only the beginning of dolphin season, so expect the bite to improve as we get into May, warmer temperatures and larger fish.

The yellowtail snapper bite in 80-130 feet continues to be great from Marathon to Ocean Reef, with almost every boat catching lots of tails and a few flags every trip. In addition to the yellowtails have been a few nice mutton snappers up to 15 pounds caught on live baits fished on the bottom. Several nice black groupers are also being caught and released with May 1 just around the corner (grouper season).

Patch reef fishing was a popular choice with those fishing smaller vessels in 15-25 feet. Live shrimp or pilchards have been the baits of choice. Over the past few months, the patches in close to Hawks channel have produced nicely. However, this week, those patches closer to the reef line in the cleaner waters have been the big producers of hogfish, porgies, groupers and snappers. If you fish a patch and do not catch anything but small yellowtails, grunts, and smaller fish, move out deeper until you do.

In the backcountry, the seatrout fishing has been the most dependable bite found in muds close to Flamingo providing lots of light tackle action. Chartreuse coloredquarter- to half-ounce jig heads tipped with Gulp shrimp colors “new penny” and “molting” have been the go to lures. These are either jigged along the bottom or suspended under floats and popped and have resulted in lots of seatrout, ladyfish and jacks.

While the snook fishing has been good, the redfish have been far and few between, making seatrout a safe fall back position if the fishing turns out to be tough. Tarpon fishing has been best during falling tides, with fresh dead ladyfish or mullet fished on the bottom of channels and creeks, resulting in tarpon and sharks of mixed sizes.

Closer to home, the tarpon action has been good, with the evening and early morning bite getting better almost every day. Live baits like mullet and crabs fished in the typical areas have produced tarpon 40 to 90 pounds and larger in addition to big jacks, sharks and barracuda. Live mullet has been easy to locate, but if you are not too experienced at throwing the net, there are several boats selling live mullet all over the Islamorada area.

Fly fisherman have had luck throwing darker colors for tarpon and have been reporting multiple opportunities every day.

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 or call (305) 481-0111.