Last week we were blessed with a much needed stretch of warm weather and calm seas. This week however, we’ve reverted back to winter chills and 15 to 20-knot winds that are not going to warm the unseasonably cold waters of Florida Bay anytime soon.
What this means is that the Florida Bay fishery should continue to struggle over the next few weeks until things warm back up. Therefore anglers who are accustomed to fishing the Bay during the winter months should instead turn their attentions out front, and focus on fishing the reef and shallow patch reefs where warmer water temperatures equate to more productive fishing grounds.
As I mentioned last week but can’t help to reiterate this week, the patch reef fishing has been superb— arguably the best and most consistent that I have seen in years! Over the past few weeks we’ve been catching our limits of quality mangrove snapper (some in the five to six-pound class), as well as muttons over 12 pounds (including an 18-pound patch reef mutton last week).
The best patch reef fishing has been in 20 to 35-feet of water atop a good lively bottom. Live pilchards on a jig head have produced the best results, but you can also have great success with small pinfish, live shrimp, or ballyhoo (cut or live) that you can catch swimming in your chum line.
With the water as dirty as it is you’ll be able to get away with heavy leader (40#), and the snapper will still bite even if you attach a stretch of wire to prevent getting cut off by the large numbers of cero mackerel that you’ll also find on the patches. I further suggest using a quality jig head that won’t straighten when fishing this heavier tackle as you will be able to put some heat on the fish. You don’t want to lose a big mutton because you skimped an extra buck when buying your jigs.
In addition to the phenomenal snapper bite, the grouper have also been slamming baits on the patch reefs. Of course, the grouper fishery is closed right now (go figure!), but there’s no way to target the snapper without hooking a few grouper in the process. Last week we caught and quickly released numerous gags and blacks up to 20-pounds, with a few reds in the mix as well.
Once you’ve loaded up on your snapper species you may want to try your luck at the large pelagic game fish that can be caught just a little further out on the edge of the reef. Live baiting ballyhoo, threadfins, pilchards and pinfish, as well as trolling lures and rigged ballyhoo, have produced wahoo, sailfish, blackfin tuna, dolphin and kingfish this past week.
Work the edge of the reef out to 200 feet and you should have a shot at landing any one of these hard-fighting fish. We’ve been consistently finding dolphin on every trip— which is a nice bonus this time of year— and in addition to the steady sailfish and kingfish bites, several wahoo upwards of 40-pounds have been caught trolling and live baiting around wrecks or hard bottom as well.
Further offshore, the excellent daytime swordfish bite has made it well worth the 30-mile trip out. Several Middle Keys boats took advantage of the calm seas this past week and ventured out to the deep and landed keeper fish.
If you’ve ever had the urge to fight one of these once-in-a-lifetime creatures, now is the time to book your trip! Best Bet Sportfishing will be happy to take you out to the sword fishing grounds aboard our comfortable, air-conditioned 35’ Cabo Sportfish, to give you your shot of reeling in one of these trophy fish from the deep. Just give us a call and we’ll set up your trip.
Your Best Bet for the Weeks Ahead: Stick to the Reef
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again- do not pass up this opportunity to fish the deep reef and the patches! The patch reefs are teaming with tasty snapper species, while the edge of the reef is holding many of the Keys most sought after game fish.
John Callion with an 18# mutton snapper caught this past week aboard the Best Bet II while fishing the patch reefs.
The groupers have been thick on the patch reefs. Kyle Witwer shows off one of the many legal groupers we have caught and released over the past few days.
Cory and Jackie experienced some awesome snapper fishing limiting out on mangroves in a couple of hours on the Best Bet.