Deep fried snapper bites drizzled with Sriracha hot chili sauce. I can’t think of a better appetizer to serve your guests this Super Bowl Sunday. After all, no Florida Keys football bash (or get-together of any kind for that matter) is complete without fresh local seafood being served.
Luckily, the water temps are heating back up, and this is an opportune time to head out and load up on delicious filets for your party. Both out front in the Atlantic, and out back in the shallow waters of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, the fishing has been nothing short of fantastic. And it’s not just the snapper (or the tourists), that are enjoying this warmer weather. Several other species of fish are making their presences known as well.
In the Bay, Spanish mackerel are showing up in droves and will make for a tasty fish dip for the big game. While on the Gulf Wrecks— in addition to the mangrove snapper— the big cobias are starting to reappear as well. Keep in mind while fishing the Gulf that we are still in a closed season for all species of grouper. So even if you catch a 24-inch gag you must let it go. Take a quick photo and return the fish to the water as soon as possible.
Look for the warmer water to also bring the fish back to the bridges. Whether fishing the Seven-Mile Bridge in the Middle Keys, or any of the other major bridges along US-1, you should have a good shot at catching keeper mangrove snappers around the pilings. Small and medium live pilchards fished on a jig head is your best bet, while live shrimp, small pinfish, and fresh cut ballyhoo will also get the job done.
Another fishery that has turned on is Hawk Channel. Hawk Channel is an excellent place to fish when the north winds pick up as you can catch a multitude of species only one to two miles from shore. All species of snapper: mangrove, muttons, lanes and yellowtails are actively feeding, while on the surface big kingfish have been moving in from the deep reef, and it’s not uncommon to find a keeper cobia swimming around either. Cobias are often attracted to the scent of your chum, and the activity of the feeding mackerel, and will often swim up to the boat to take a look around. Always have a pitch rod ready for this scenario. A live bait, or a jig head with whiffle or swimming tail, should entice them to eat.
Further out, the water on the patch reefs is beginning to clear up making the quality mangroves a little more finicky when it comes to bait presentation. Be ready to switch to a lighter fluorocarbon leader than you were using the past few weeks, and you may need to go as low as 12 to 15-pounds to get the fish to eat. You may lose more fish with a lighter leader, but you’ll get a lot more bites in the process.
On the deep reef nothing significant has changed. The water temperature remains about the same as it has been and we’re still experiencing excellent sailfish and kingfish bites. Look for kingfish up to 30-pounds swimming anywhere from 80 to 120-feet out, with sailfish in the same area and a little deeper.
There are still solid numbers of sails around, and with large counts of fish being reported up along the Palm Beaches and Fort Lauderdale we can likely expect another large pod of fish to move in soon.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Catch fish for your super bowl party or next Keys get-together!
Impress your guests with fresh local seafood that you went out and caught yourself! Now is a great time to catch delicious snapper and cobia as well as mackerel for the smoker.
Wintertime Key Colony Beach resident Carl “The Preacher” Krueger with a 44lb kingfish caught with a live pilchard near the edge of the reef on 15lb test. “Notice how the image seems to have a salty residue,” said Captain Jason Long. “That’s realism!” Catching big sailfish on the Best Best is a normal occurrence. Photo by: Mike Nealis/The Weekly Newspapers.