Winds of Change
If you’ve spent any amount of time fishing in the Florida Keys, you’ve likely had to alter your plans because of high winds and rough seas. It’s happened to us all, and it’s something we can’t control. This time of year the weather is extremely inconsistent. One day it’s flat calm and you can journey offshore in a skiff. The next day a wicked cold front might blow in, keeping even the largest sportfishing boats tied up at the dock.
True, the wind can be an angler’s greatest foe. But those windy days also challenge us and test our fishing skills. Just because there are six to eight-footers beyond the reef, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a place to catch fish. We’re blessed to have endless fishing opportunities here in the Florida Keys, and there’s always somewhere to bend the rod. It’s up to you to plan ahead, and make the most of what the weather gives you.
Early this week we were hammered with strong south-southeast winds that made it difficult for your average vessel to get offshore. While this does limit our chances to target the larger pelagic fish, it does open new opportunities with our inshore fishery. These south-southeast winds push warm waters into the shallows, often helping to heat up the bite on the flats, around the bridges, in Florida Bay, and in the backcountry waters of Everglades National Park.
On days like these put the heavy tackle away and break out the light spinning gear. Fish the downward side of the islands for snapper, snook, and redfish. Anchor up at the bridges and target keeper mangroves. Or head into the bay for some exciting light-tackle Spanish mackerel fishing.
When fishing the bridges be sure to pick the right tide. Fishing the incoming tides will offer calmer conditions and make for a more comfortable fishing experience. For targeting snapper at the bridges fish live pilchards on jig heads. Or if you’re unable to catch pilchards, live shrimp, fresh cut ballyhoo, or small pinfish will also do the trick, all of which can be purchased at your local tackle shop. Also keep in mind that water around the bridges is likely to be dirtier than normal. That means you can beef up your leader and get away with fishing heavier fluorocarbon line.
Another thing I like to do when it’s blowing out of the south-southeast is anchor up in Florida Bay (eight to 12-feet of water) and fish for Spanish mackerel. Get a good chum slick flowing, wait a few minutes, and the fish should begin to show up. The mackerel are thick right now in the Bay and you should be able to spend an afternoon consistently bending the rod with these strong fighting fish. Use a silver spoon, jig, or live bait. All of which will do the trick during a Spanish mackerel feeding frenzy.
When the wind turns around and blows out of the north conditions change, and so do your fishing options. Now our focus is out front, fishing the reef and Hawk Channel, where the islands offer some protection and act as a barrier against the wind. During a north wind, anchor up on the channel humps or on the reef and target snapper, grouper, kingfish, cobia, and more. Just remember that grouper season is closed, so even if you reel in a keeper black you’ll have to let it go for another day. The north-northeast winds are also a great time to head out and target sailfish. Usually the cool breezes and changing conditions really turn on the sailfish bite.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Plan Ahead
No matter what the wind is doing, it’s imperative that you always have a plan before leaving the dock. Check the wind and radar and plan accordingly. The below websites are valuable tools for any angler. Just remember that forecasts are not always 100-percent accurate. Always use your own judgment while on the water
Marine Weather Websites
This past month, Marathon residents Bridget and Kent Loftus took their family fishing aboard the Best Bet and, “caught a bit of everything that day,” said Capt. Long. “They boated 2 sailfish and limited out on cobia and kingfish.” Pictured, from left: Brad, Bobby and Linda Bridges with daughter Bridget and her husband Kent Loftus.
First catch at Holiday Inn docks
Capt. Chris Morrison put Bob Cypher and Al Heffernan on a haul of kings last week before moving on to deeper waters where Heffernan landed this nice Mutton Snapper in 180 feet of water. The trio was aboard the Carnada, behind the recently renovated Holiday Inn Express. Book your charter with the IGFA Top Saltwater Guide of 2008 by calling (305) 393-2353.
By Capt. Derek Rust
Dense fog made for some sketchy navigation around the banks and flats this past week, but the fish were feeding heavily and we had great success in the shallows.
The other day, I had the pleasure of taking part in a corporate outing that turned into a mini fishing tournament. The tournament was “structured” over a few beers at Tom’s Harbor House to target the biggest dinner fish, and the largest Shark. All teams did well, and put up some impressive numbers of fish and some really big Sharks. A 10’ plus Lemon was caught, along with some really big Black Tips, and several big Spanish Mackerel, Pompano, Snappers, and one nice Cobia. We had great time fishing with these guys, and we shared a lot of laughs, not to mention, some great fishing.
For consistent action, the highly aggressive Spanish Mackerel has been hot this winter. They are found in plentiful numbers in eight feet of water and up, but you do not have to travel far to find them. Most boat wrecks, rock piles, and deeper channels off the flats are attractive homes for the mackerel. For best results, anchor up and start chum line off of the bow, or drift with a chum block dragging behind the boat. A good chum slick is vital to finding these fish. Spanish Macks are a pelagic species and they never stop swimming, so, if you are not finding them, don’t be afraid to move a few miles away and start chumming again. At some point, you will find them.
The Mackerel are not the only fish we are finding in the Bay right now. We have been catching good numbers Mangrove Snappers, Blue Fish, Lady Fish, Jack Crevalle and Pompano. We have also been finding a few Red fish around lately. A jig and a shrimp will get the job done for most is not all of these species, but so will a live Pilchard fished on a jig head or a circle hook.
Dan Croft, a southern Florida native displaying a nice 30 lb Cobia he caught the other day in the Bay.
11th Annual Islamorada Sailfly Championship
Twenty teams of saltwater fly rod anglers came together from eight states across the US and Canada to compete in the Eleventh Annual Islamorada Sailfly Championship in the Florida Keys on January 12-13. In chilly weather and often lumpy seas, eight of the 20 teams in this challenging event produced 14 hook ups and eight releases.
At 8:25 on Wednesday morning Mike Rempe of Windsor, Co. hooked the first sailfish of the day aboard Miami Capt. Ray Rosher’s Miss Britt. After 12 minutes, they maneuvered close enough to bring the nail knot inside the tip top earning 50 points but shortly after, the tippet parted, denying them the 150 points for billing and removing the fly. At 9 am, master angler and multiple IGFA World Champion, Robert Collins hooked his first ever Atlantic Sailfish on fly aboard The Reel McCoy with Capt. George McElven and team mate, Mark Gilman all of Islamorada. After a grueling hour and twenty-six minutes, the fish was billed and the fly removed for 150 points and the lead.
Two more fish were caught for score on Wednesday.
Thursday morning brought 25 mile an hour winds, 56 degrees and very choppy seas or conditions known as “Sailfish Weather” in the Keys; however, the numbers of aggressive fish anticipated did not materialize. Some teams had over a dozen shots but others had slim pickings for the day. Six more fish were billed but no team caught two, and The Reel McCoy took Grand Champion honors with the first fish caught.
Second place went to Al McLead and Ben Ekblom aboard Yo Ho Ho with Capt. Charlie Scoble. For the second year in a row, third place honors went to Capt. Billy Bishop of Islamorada with father and son team John David Eaton and John Eaton of Canada aboard Sally Margaret.
Tournament Director Sandy Moret said, “Atlantic Sailfish are rarely fished for with fly rod in the US. Our event attracts some very devoted and hard-core fly fishers with a tremendous amount of talent. In our first year, 14 teams competed catching zero fish and a 14-way tie for first place was declared. The event has gained in popularity ever since. I believe this may be the most difficult fishing tournament in the Florida Keys. Because the fishery is primarily live bait oriented, transferring a teased sailfish to a feathered fly is very difficult.”
The invitational tournament is an all release team event using 16-pound class (8 kg) tippet supplied by the tournament. Each team is allowed two anglers who may cast, hook and fight the fish and anyone on board can tease the fish with live or dead hookless teasers making the “bait and switch.” A release is accomplished when the connection of fly line to leader is brought into the tiptop of the fly rod. If that occurs in more than 60 seconds after hook up, then 50 points are earned. Leaders must be less than 12 feet in length. If the fish is billed and the fly retrieved, the catch then counts for 150 points
The Islamorada Sailfly Championship is sponsored by Florida Keys Outfitters, Rich Products Corporation, The Green Turtle Inn, Craig Reagor of Riverwood Art Farms and Kaiyo’s Restaurant.