One of the most rewarding things about being a charter boat captain is the opportunity I get to share the excitement of fishing with anglers who are new to the sport. It’s a gratifying feeling to help a child reel in his first ever keeper snapper, or to see the smile on a vacationer’s face when her first sailfish is released back into the sea. It’s moments like these that make my job more enjoyable, and why I’m always happy to take out and educate groups who are new to fishing.
The Florida Keys are one of the best fishing destinations in the world for first-time fishermen and women because they offer a great probability of catching any of a number of hard-fighting species within just a few miles from shore.
On the Atlantic Side, Hawk Channel and the patch reefs (2 to 3 miles out) are one of the best places for anglers to get acquainted with ocean fishing while at the same time loading the cooler with tasty fillets. The waters are generally pretty calm here (so you don’t need to worry about getting seasick), and are always teaming with snapper, grouper, kingfish, sharks and more.
I recommend booking a full-day trip so that we will have time to fish Hawk Channel (where I can show you a few tips while you’re reeling in fish), and head out to the deep waters where you can test your skills with dolphin and sailfish up top, and rod-bending mutton snapper and amberjacks on the deep reef and wrecks.
Another great option for beginner anglers is fishing the shallow waters of Florida Bay. When the winds start blowing the bay can offer salvation from the waves, and provide an excellent chance to reel in quality fish. During this time of year you can expect the Florida Bay to yield nice catches of big mangrove snapper, grouper, mackerel, cobia (on the wrecks) and more.
Over the past two weeks I was fortunate to fish several saltwater fishing beginners on the Best Bet, including recently retired Ray, and a five-year-old boy from Northern Canada.
Ray was looking for a new hobby to get involved with after retiring, and I’m almost certain that he found it. He enjoyed his fishing experience so much that he ended up booking a second trip with me the following day so that he could take his grandson Anthony along.
On the first trip, Ray and I fished the patches in the morning and had a blast catching grouper, snapper and kingfish. In the afternoon, we headed offshore to tangle with the big AJs and Ray got a taste of what it’s like to pull up a powerful fish from two-hundred plus feet below.
On the second day, Ray watched in anticipation as Anthony fought and landed a large king on light tackle. If you’ve never experienced light tackle fishing for big kings you should give it a try; it’s quite a thrill to reel in a 20 to 30-pound fish on 12 to 15-pound test.
The young man from Northern Canada also experienced his share of rod bending action, although at times he had a little trouble keeping the rod off the gunnel (a difficult task for a five-year- old). With a little assistance from first-mate Nick Borracino, he was however able to land a quality ten-pound keeper gag grouper.
Overall, the groups of first timers I fished aboard the Best Bet ended up reeling in their share of kingfish, grouper (blacks, gags and reds up to 14 pounds), amberjacks and mutton snapper. Hopefully they’ll all return and fish with me again now that they’re “seasoned vets.”
The incredible weather over the past two weeks also allowed me to get offshore several times in search of the pelagic species. We’re still seeing good numbers of schoolie and gaffer size dolphin between 200 and 450 feet of water on the color changes and current edges.
The catches of sailfish up and down the Keys has slowed dramatically of late, but I’m hoping this cold front (be it mild) will trigger the bite for the upcoming tournaments.
Captain Jack Callion (305-743-7552) reports that he limited out on mangrove snapper over in the Florida Bay on a recent half-day trip, and that there are plenty of mackerel in the area to play around with once the cooler is full.
Captain Mike Biffel, of Big Dawg Charters www.bigdawgsportfishing.com, reports that good numbers of cobia have been showing up on the Gulf wrecks as well.
Your Best Bet for the Weeks Ahead: Go Fishing!
If you’ve ever walked past the charter boats and wondered what it would be like to go deep sea fishing, or watched the pros reel in the big ones on one of those saltwater fishing shows and wished that it was you out there on the water, then I highly recommend booking a trip on one of the Best Bet boats. You just may get hooked
Ray (left) and Kevin from Massachusetts enjoying their new found hobby.
Polk county boys with a limit of flag yellowtail and mangrove snapper.