Nearshore is where you want to be fishing this week.
On the Atlantic wrecks, the mutton snapper bite is very good. There are plenty of fish in the 10- to 15-pound range plus some big ones at nearly 20 pounds. Be aware there are lots of red snapper mixed in with the muttons. You need to throw the reds back because there is a full-time closure for them.
Good numbers of amberjack occupy the wrecks, as well. And we’re starting to see a smattering of king mackerel, mostly smaller fish in the five- to 10-pound category. Pilchards, pinfish and live ballyhoo are all producing well on the wrecks.
Moving on to the reefs, fishing for yellowtail snappers is quite good, with no specific depth outproducing another. However, the deeper you go, the bigger the yellowtails. You’ll need copious amounts of frozen block chum, supplemented with YellowtailUp from Aquatic Nutrition. Cut baits, shrimp and small live pilchards are the best baits here.
Good-size muttons are mixed in with the yellowtails, so it pays to have a live bait in your slick to entice passers-by. And there’s a steady pick of black grouper along the deeper edge of the reef, with large, live baits, such as grunts and bluerunners, providing the most action on these.
The patch reefs contain decent mangrove snapper action, as well as smaller muttons in the five- to eight-pound class. The mangroves average a nice two to three pounds. Again, live baits — pilchards, pinfish and ballyhoo — are the trick here.
A fair number of grouper are on these shallow patches, mostly reds and gags with the occasional just-legal black. The same live baits used for the snappers also work for the groupers.
Very close to shore, there are lots of mullet moving around, which has the tarpon, jack crevalles and sharks fired up. Stick around the bridges and banks for your best shot at tangling with these large critters. You’ll need live mullet or large pilchards for the tarpon and jacks, while any kind of dead bait will work for the sharks, which are primarily blacktips and lemons right now.
The bayside wrecks are loaded with mangroves. Navigate carefully in the shallow bay waters as there’s some large debris items that weren’t there prior to the storm. Shrimp, small pinfish and pilchards are the way to go.
Fishing is a way of life in the Florida Keys. If you live here, take a break from the hurricane cleanup, patronize your local bait and tackle shop and go fishing. If you’re reading this online somewhere else, the best thing you can do to help the Keys recover from Hurricane Irma is to get down here and go fishing with your favorite guide, stay at your favorite hotel, eat at your favorite restaurant. You’ll be giving a morale boost to our entire community.
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, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.