The cold is keeping the pelagics here

Jack Schmidt wanted to catch something different from what he can get back home in California. Capt. Wayne Burri and SeaSquared Charters delivered with this nice mutton snapper.
Jack Schmidt wanted to catch something different from what he can get back home in California. Capt. Wayne Burri and SeaSquared Charters delivered with this nice mutton snapper. SeaSquared Charters

The cold fronts Florida is experiencing this month have plummeted the water temps along the central coast into the 60s, thus forcing the wintertime pelagics down to the Keys to hang here for the season.

We’re talking about king mackerel and sailfish primarily, but there is also an abundance of blackfin tuna on the wrecks just off the reef. Live baits are key to attract bites from these pelagic species. Live pilchards and cigar minnows are currently getting the most bites.

As a side note, there has been a scattering of dolphin offshore, but most have been picked up by anglers fishing for swordfish and other deep dwellers. January is typically not the time of year to target dolphin in the Keys.

On warmer days when the weather is stable, head to the deeper areas of the reef in the 60- to 90-foot depths to target yellowtail snappers. These fish tend to get fussy in cooler waters, so don’t waste your time and resources on nasty days. Although cut baits will work, fresh shrimp is the ticket to success with the yellowtails.

The reef is also holding plenty of kings plus some very large cero mackerel. For greatest success use live pilchards or a shrimp-tipped jighead worked back through your yellowtail slick and quickly retrieved.

Hawk Channel is delivering its usual wintertime bounty of fun-catching and good-eating fish. Variety is the name of the game in this venue. You’ll catch lane, mangrove, yellowtail and even keeper-size mutton snappers. Mixed in are delicious porgies and loads of throwback hogfish and grouper. There’s even mackerel, with mostly Spanish and cero and only a handful of kings.

For the snappers, a shrimp-tipped jig fished on the bottom will load up your fish box in a hurry. And for the mackerel, use the same baits as suggested for reef fishing.

The fishing in Florida Bay has slowed drastically due to the plunging water temperatures in the low- to mid-60’s. With a warming trend predicted for the weekend, the water should warm up and the fish respond accordingly. Florida Bay waters cool quickly but also rebound rapidly, and it doesn’t take long for the fishing to bounce back.

The week’s best

Snappers and mackerel dominated the catches on the SeaSquared boats last week. Lanes, yellowtails, large mangroves and impressive muttons came back to the dock along with the mackerel trifecta of king, Spanish and cero. The smokers are full! There were also loads of throwback hogfish and groupers. Some quality blackfin tuna were mixed in along with a couple of sailfish landings.

Yellowtails and kingfish dominated the catches for Capt. Kevin Wilson and his guests with Knee Deep Charters out of the Geiger Key Marina. Dan Flickstand from Winter Park caught a 25-pound king, while the O’Harriz group, from Miami, landed a pair about the same size. Limits of yellowtails completed the catches.

Free seminars

Capt. Chris Johnson hosts a series of free fishing seminars at the Hyatt Place/Faro Blanco, mile marker 48 bayside, this season. The third in the monthly series takes place Feb. 6 with the topic “Yellowtailing 101.” It runs from 6:30 to 8:30 pm and there will be prizes and giveaways.

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