If you’ve been to the grocery stores lately you’ll know that tourist season is beginning to get into full swing. And with all the fresh faces in the Middle Keys, I thought I’d start this week’s fishing report by introducing myself to our new visitors, and re-introducing myself to you long-time Keys Weekly readers.
For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Captain Jason Long and I run the Best Bet Sportfishing boats docked next to Sparky’s Landing Restaurant in Key Colony Beach. I specialize in offshore, reef, wreck and tarpon fishing, and have a fleet of boats available for charter, highlighted by my stable 30’ Island Hopper, and comfortable 35’ Cabo Sportfish that’s equipped with an air-conditioned salon and all the comforts of home.
I was born and raised in the Florida Keys and have been fishing the waters around Marathon my entire life. If you’re looking to bend a rod while you’re here in the Keys— far away from the snow up north— please contact me (see contact information below), or stop by one of the Best Bet boats in Key Colony Beach. I’ll be happy to set you up with a trip, or provide you with some local’s advice if you’re heading out on your own boat.
This past week I fished several times on the Island Hopper, and on each trip found an abundance of hungry fish out on the reef. The only problem, many of those hungry fish were bull sharks— which ate most of the big flag yellowtails we were hooking into.
We were able to land fish up to 18-inches, but the bull sharks were far too fast and aggressive to get the larger ones to the boat. On nearly every trip the sharks forced us to move to the shallower patch reefs to load up on our delicious table fare snapper species. Fortunately, the big mangroves are still on the patches and provided constant action and coolers full of delicious fillets. In addition, we also caught solid numbers of patch reef yellowtails from 13 to 15-inches— which although not quite as fun as the bigger tails— they did made their way onto our dinner tables, and not the sharks.
Quite often when the bull sharks are this active a group of anglers will ask if we can target them. It can be quite a thrill (and a work out) to battle these hard-fighting and downright powerful fish, and I’m happy to oblige when anyone wants to try and catch one.
When fishing for bull sharks we’ll generally catch a bonita or kingfish, butterfly it, and then send it down to entice the sharks. The set up we use is a conventional reel, using no lighter than 50-pound monofilament line, on a stout rod with a lot of backbone. When anchored up it’s best to use as heavy of tackle as possible as you won’t be able to chase the fish down and it’s just you verse the fish.
Most often we’ll use a strong and sharp 8/0 to 9/0 hook attached to a three-foot stretch of #12 wire. It’s important to use only the sharpest hooks you can find with the smallest diameter so that the hook can penetrate the bull shark’s tough mouth. We also attach an eight-foot leader of 150 to 200-pound mono to the wire so that we can handle the fish at the boat. One thing to consider if you’re out shark fishing is to always carry a sharp pair of wire cutters if you need to cut the wire. The hook will eventually rust out of the fish’s mouth, just be sure to cut the wire as close to its mouth as possible.
In addition to the hungry snapper and even hungrier bull sharks, the kingfish and cero mackerel continue to slam baits on the surface. Look for ceros and kingfish up to 30-pounds anywhere from the deep reef into the patches.
While I didn’t make it offshore last week, I have heard reports that the blackfin tuna action on the humps has been up and down, with overcast days producing the best catches of big fish. Furthermore, the sailfish bite remains steady off the edge of the reef and should remain solid over the weeks ahead. As I mentioned last week, we’re still awaiting a nice push of sails to swim down from the north, so don’t be afraid to put out a spread in hopes of catching a few sailfish.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: If you can’t beat em’, join em’!
If the bull sharks aren’t allowing you to catch other species, you may as well try and catch one of them. Reeling in a bull shark is fun, challenging, and provides excellent photo opportunities when you get them next to the boat. Just check out the shots taken from the flats boat of Captain Paul Fisicaro.
Photos courtesy: Paul Fisicaro at www.stripstrikecharters.com