Tarpon starting to show up, but the water needs to warm up

It was another great week of fishing here in the beautiful Florida Keys, lots of options in the backcountry and offshore.

Offshore, the changing weather conditions and temperatures have had the fish turned on some days and turned off others. The cold fronts have kept the sailfish around but not in big numbers. Most boats fishing the reef line have had one or two fish released daily.

Captain Rusty Albury and his crew aboard the Esperanza had a great day releasing two sailfish, then fishing the reef catching lots of yellowtails snapper, several cero mackerel, couple of mutton snapper, and a few big triggerfish. There have been a few wahoo and kingfish caught by boats trolling for tuna or drifting live baits for sails.

While the dolphin fishing has been few and far between, expect this to improve in the next month. For now most catches have been chance encounters in the 5- to 10-pound range.

The patch reefs have had lots of rod-bending action with hogfish, porgies, snapper, grouper of mixed sizes, and assorted reef fish. Live shrimp or fresh squid fished on the bottom around these mini-reefs covers most species you want on the patches. Patch reefs have been a great fall back position when the fishing in the bay is slow, but make sure you take a current copy of the updated fishing regulations. There have been a few changes to the current regulations.

In the backcountry, the seatrout bite has been good around Blue Bank. Three-eighths to half-ounce jigs tipped with Gulp shrimp, molting or new penny have produced trout up to 20 inches or more.

As you drive through the bay, don’t ignore all the new fallen trees. Most are now home to schools of mangrove snapper of mixed sizes, jacks and sheepshead. There has also been an algae bloom between Shell Key and Twin Key Bank; you will know it when you see it. The water turns a color of yellow, and it looks awful. Hopefully it will diminish and move out soon.

Tarpon season is upon us and all the signs are there. Mullet have been around town, crabs have been floating at night and already several big fish between 60-100 pounds have been caught.

Live mullet have been the bait of choice, but with the cooler water temperatures, fishing dead mullet on the bottom has been as effective. Those fishing dead bait for tarpon have had to bring several dozen baits as the little snappers and pinfish devour your baits like piranha. If you fish this way, be prepared for nurse sharks, rays, small grouper, and even catfish in some areas. As the water temperatures rise, the tarpon fishing will improve. We just need a few days of warmer temps.

Closer to home, the bonefishing has been good during the warmer afternoons, but another cold front and it could shut them down for a few days. Fish averaging 2 to 6 pounds have been the norms with larger bones 10-plus-pounds are always a possibility. There have been a fair amount of barracudas on the flats as well; having a cuda tube already rigged can provide a lot of excitement when waiting for the next school of bonefish to come by.

It has been an honor and a privilege to write these reports for the last seven years. I have met several of you around town and while at the dock. My favorite encounter was while I was washing my boat after a charter in my front yard. When a man in a silver pickup stopped in front of my house and yelled “Nice Article,” it took me aback for a minute before I realized he was referring to my fishing report.

I had never seen him before or since, but I know he is out there. I am not going anywhere but The Reporter is, so this will be my last report. Who knows what the future holds, it’s kinda like fishing, you don’t really know until you get there. Thank you Florida Keys, and all the staff at The Reporter!

For 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. He can be reached at or call (305) 481-0111.