Anglers all along the Keys continue to enjoy fishing for our wintertime visitors.
Sailfish and blackfin tuna are plentiful just off the reef edge in 120 to 150 feet of water. Look for good, clean, blue or blueish water and you should find these species.
Cigar minnows, pilchards, ballyhoo and goggle eyes are all working well as bait for the sails. As for the blackfins, it’s all about pilchards. That’s not to say they won’t eat the other baits, but pilchards arouse their interest the greatest. We typically use a 40-pound leader for the sailfish; however, we scale back our leaders to 30- or even 25-pound fluoro for the tuna.
King mackerel are plentiful off the edge of the reef as well as on the wrecks and rough bottom areas. Now that we’re into the middle of winter, their size has increased to an average of eight to ten pounds, with a few larger specimens over 20 pounds surprising anglers.
Use your sailfish baits for the kings, with the only difference being the addition of a small piece of wire in front of your hook to prevent bite-offs. We like to fish a rod half-way off the bottom to attract a greater number of bites from the kingfish, as they won’t always hit the baits on the surface.
On the wrecks, we’re still picking away at a few mutton snappers. There are also loads of good-size amberjacks to test your mettle. Just remember, they must all be released as the season is closed until March 1.
The best snapper action is in Hawk Channel. Lots of nice lanes are coming back to the docks, with some as large as 15 to 16 inches. There are also keeper yellowtails and mangroves and even the even the occasional mutton being taken on the little rock piles.
To round out your fishing in Hawk Channel, all three of the mackerel species — king, Spanish and cero — are present in quantity.
The snappers are eating shrimp the best, while the mackerel eat the shrimp as well as live baits, such as pilchards. A small bluerunner fished up in a kite or on a float is producing some real smoker kings.
With some serious winds predicted for the weekend, I suggest you invest your Saturday in attending George Poveromo’s National Seminar Series, held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier.
As a past speaker, I can attest that you will come away having learned how to catch more and bigger fish in your local waters. The panel of local captains and guides that George has assembled will convey a wealth of knowledge well worth the $55 price of admission. There are also lots of prizes and giveaways. For more information, click over to www.nationalseminarseries.com.
The week’s best
The SeaSquared boats continue to fish the nearshore waters at the reef, in Hawk Channel and at the bridges. Our guests are enjoying excellent fishing for all the snapper and mackerel species, bonus blackfin tunas and sharks thrown in for some catch-and-release fun.
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 p.m. 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, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.