It’s still dolphin but don’t discount grouper, snapper

Local U.S. Coast Guardsman Justin Johnson and Capt. Kevin Wilson of Knee Deep Charters show this beautiful 17-pound grouper they landed on a recent trip.
Local U.S. Coast Guardsman Justin Johnson and Capt. Kevin Wilson of Knee Deep Charters show this beautiful 17-pound grouper they landed on a recent trip.

As it’s been for weeks, heading offshore for dolphin is still quite productive.

This past week, we saw a greater number of gaffer and slammer-size dolphin than we had previously. However, there are still large packs of sub-legal fish. If you find one of these schools, don’t waste your time but move on instead. Remember, the minimum size is 20 inches to the fork of the tail.

We still have plenty of tuna mixed in with the mahi, skipjacks and blackfins mostly in the five- to 10-pound class. If you own the proper deep-drop equipment, it pays to spend some time bottom fishing while offshore. You’re likely to catch groupers, tilefish, rosefish, barrelfish and the like. What a great way to fill your freezer with quality-eating fish.

On the reef, snapper fishing remains excellent. The mangroves are starting to outnumber the yellowtails in some spots. And there are still some black grouper in the deeper areas of 80 to 90 feet.

Large live baits, such as pinfish and grunts, work well for the groupers. The yellowtails take the usual assortment of cut baits, silversides and shrimp. And the mangroves prefer small pinfish or ballyhoo.

For big-fish action in shallow water, you can’t beat catch-and-release shark fishing. We have plentiful quantities of large blacktips, spinners and lemons in the area now.

The week’s best

The SeaSquared boats took advantage of the awesome snapper bite on the reef. Our guests came back to the dock with mangroves, yellowtails and muttons. A few black grouper were in the mix, as well. Offshore, we caught loads of dolphin. And shallow-water fishing produced catch-and-release shark and barracuda fun as well as delicious mangroves.

The Hooper family from Shreveport, La., caught yellowtails with Capt. Kevin Wilson and Knee Deep Charters out of the Geiger Key Marina. It was the first-time ocean fishing for the kids and they had a blast.

On another charter, Wilson had local U.S. Coast Guardsman Justin Johnson, his son Luke and friends Bo and Caroline from Chiefland, Fla. Bo and Justin both brought in large mangrove snappers, and Justin had the biggest fish, a 17-pound grouper. Limiting out on yellowtails, they will be eating fresh fish for quite some time.

We haven’t heard from Capt. Moe Mottice and his Lucky Fleet in a while, so it was nice to know they’ve been catching schoolie dolphin out deep on debris or a weed line by casting ballyhoo or dropping a diamond jig. Also, dropping a bait in 1,200 feet can nab you some rosefish, a glass-eyed snapper, golden tilefish and a variety of sharks. The reef is loaded with yellowtails and big mangroves. And they’re also still catching tarpon, sharks and barracuda in the backcountry and Key West Harbor.

Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters, docked at Faro Blanco Resort and Yacht Club in Marathon. You can reach him at (305) 743-5305, and