It is beginning to get a little quiet around here. Summer vacations are ending; kids are going back to school; and those of us in the Florida Keys charter fishing and hospitality industries are buckling down for another offseason lull.

Fortunately, for those of you that are in town, this is an ideal time to head out and experience the wonderful fishery of the Florida Keys. The lack of tourists on the water translates into a decrease in fishing pressure – that means that good numbers of hungry, aggressive fish are swimming everywhere from the flats to offshore, and are primed for the taking.

Nowhere is this more apparent than out on the reef, where recently the yellowtail snapper bite has been nothing short of spectacular. Large flag tails – over 18 inches— are swarming the chum lines and turning the blue waters of the Atlantic a most beautiful shade of yellow.

Look for the yellowtail fishing to remain red-hot over the next several weeks, and don’t forget to drop a bait down to the bottom while freelining for the tails. There are large packs of ballyhoo still hanging around the reef, and if you can catch a few— either with hair hooks on rod and reel, or with the cast net— send one down and you’ll have a good shot of hooking up with a nice mutton, grouper, or mangrove snapper.

Out on the deep wrecks the mutton snapper fishing remains impressive, while those wanting to test their strength and endurance should have no problem hooking up and doing battle with a large amberjack. Last week Jeff Reilly of Grassy Key, fishing a wreck off of Marathon, caught a nice 29-inch mutton using his own unique take on a butterfly jig (he rigged a kitchen butter knife with a hook- check out the photo). Pretty work Jeff!

Offshore, the dolphin fishing remains fair, with good numbers of schoolies and small gaffer-sized fish congregating around weedlines. Look for large patches of grass anywhere from 10 to 16 miles out, and you should be able to fill the box with a few late summer-time phins.

On the humps the tuna fishing continues to be excellent, and with the winds forecast to lie down a bit (at the time I write this), now is a great time to make the trip out and load up on the blackfins. Trolling, live baiting, and vertical jigging (with or without butter knives) are your best bets for catching quality fish.

Inshore, Captain Shelby Bentley, fishing in the lower Keys, reports the bonefishing has really heated since the weather cleared. I had the chance to talk with Shelby earlier in the week and by noon on Monday; he had already caught and released several bonefish and redfish while fishing the Lower Keys backcountry islands.

Shelby reports that good numbers of permit have also been hanging around down there, and that the falling tide has been the best time to fish the flats. To book a backcountry trip with Captain Shelby call 305-797-3665, or visit his website:

Your Best Bet for the Weeks Ahead: Yellowtail Snapper Fishing at the Reef

The lack of fishing pressure on the reef has really turned on the yellowtail snapper bite. Fishing for yellowtails delivers exciting light-tackle action for even the most experienced anglers, and provides delicious table fare for you to enjoy after your trip. Plus reef fishing trips are an affordable way to get the entire family on the water (we take up to six anglers). If you’re interested in trying your hand at catching big tails stop by one of the Best Bet boats, located at Key Colony Beach Marina, or get in touch with me through the contact information included in this report.



JASON YELLOWTAIL: Now’s the time to hit the reef for large flag yellowtails.




JEFF MUTTON: Jeff Reilly of Grassy Key showing that sometimes you don’t need expensive lures to catch big fish.




GOLIATH: Be prepared to hook a few goliath groupers while bottom fishing the reef.



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