Rough water offshore made backcountry a tempting option

Phillip from Miami shows off his grey ghost quickly before releasing it. He caught the bonefish while fishing in Islamorada with his fishing partner. They went two for three on bones during the Spartan Tournament.
Phillip from Miami shows off his grey ghost quickly before releasing it. He caught the bonefish while fishing in Islamorada with his fishing partner. They went two for three on bones during the Spartan Tournament.

A week of tropical winds kept a few anglers from venturing out but not all of them. Fishing was good this past week with more action than previous weeks. Offshore the dolphin bite picked back up. On the reef the yellowtail continue to eat everything, and close to home tarpon fever is in full effect.

Offshore the dolphin bite moved closer to the reef edge with the southern wind making for shorter runs out. Dolphin averaging 4 to 8 pounds have been the norm with much larger fish caught up to 30 or more pounds caught, just not as frequently.

Naked ballyhoo trolled with a blue/white or orange/black skirt has gotten the job done with cedar plugs and rattle jet lures catching their share.

Mixed in with the dolphin have been tripletail, blackfin and skipjack tuna, a handful of wahoo, and a few sailfish still around.

Bottom fisherman have been having success deep dropping in 700-plus feeet catching tilefish, snowy and yellow edge groupers with cut bait like bonito, squid or ballyhoo on chicken rigs. I recommend having an electric reel or a young pair of arms if you plan on not using electrics for this kind of fishing.

On the reef, the yellowtail snapper bite continues to be steady and predictable with tails averaging 2 to 4 ounds caught usually in 80 to 120 feet. A good bottom machine will help you find the big party of fish, however, the current and sharks (the two most important factors) can force you to move.

Permit have been found on the wrecks in better numbers this week. A live crabs drifted over the wreck will not go unnoticed. I recommend using 20-pound braid or better. This will help keep the fish out of the wreck.

Bottom fisherman have been enjoying a healthy bite of mutton snapper, 5 to 10 pounds average in 120 to 250 feet of water with either live baits like pinfish, speedos or ballyhoo, or fresh-cut bait like bonito or speedos. 

Along with the muttons have been mixed sizes of black grouper, red grouper and a few African pompano. A few kingfish continue to be caught but their numbers are thinning out as the waters warm up.

Closer to home around the local bridges and channels, the tarpon bite continues to be good for bait slingers and fly fisherman alike. While bait fisherman swear by live mullet, most of the fish caught these past few weeks have been on dead baits fished on the bottom.

Now you will catch tarpon, but also sharks, grouper and jacks; which help keep the action going between tarpon hook ups. Those fishing either at night or early morning have been catching their silver floating live crabs under floats around the bridges. Tarpon typically average 40 to 80 pounds, with much larger fish up to 150 pounds and more caught daily. Expect the bite to only get better in the coming weeks.

It is nice to only encounter a handful of boats in the backcountry. From the lack of boats you might even get the idea that the fishing is slow but it is not. There were solid numbers of small tarpon found throughout the backcountry this week averaging 5 to 20 pounds, and they were hungry.

Live baits work great, but artificial lures like 5- to 7-inch jerk baits, colors “black/silver flake” or white rigged weedless worked just below the surface. They also worked well tipped on a quarter- or three-eighths-ounce chartreuse jig heads and jigged across the bottom have been very effective.

Redfish and snook have been showing up in better numbers on the flats around Flamingo, centered on schools of mullet. Additionally with all the rainfall the outflows from the mainland have been hot spots for snook, tarpon and redfish. Small buck tail jigs colors white and silver tipped with shrimp have been deadly when fished in these areas.

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!

@excuse: @excuse:Capt. Mike Makowski is a backcountry fishing guide and owner of Blackfoot Charters in Key Largo. His column appears biweekly. To send him fishing reports or photos, e-mail or call (305) 481-0111.