There’s no denying that the weather has been uncharacteristically cold. The tee shirts have been supplanted by jackets and sweatshirts; the air-conditioners replaced by seldom used space heaters; and as unfathomable as it may sound, the flip flops have been swapped out for shoes and socks.
It’s safe to say that these are not the warm tropical temperatures our Keys visitors were expecting when they made their New Year’s travel plans. And to be honest, I don’t like the cold much myself. But keep in mind that right now the Keys are still one of the warmest places in the country, and though we may have to throw a few extra layers of clothes on, it’s still an excellent time to head out and fish.
A common misconception that many people have is that the 15 to 20-knot winds we often encounter during the winter months make for rough seas and difficult fishing conditions. This however, couldn’t be further from the truth. When the wind is blowing out of the north, the islands shield the Atlantic and seas rarely exceed two to three feet inside the reef — extremely fishable conditions to say the least!
In addition, many of the Florida Keys charter boats have heated salons for you to warm up in if your hands get cold while reeling in fish. Just last week we fished several trips aboard the Best Bet II, a 35’ Cabo Sportfisher, and anytime one of my anglers got chilly they’d just step inside for a quick heat break and then head back out to bend the rod.
The moral of all this is that you should not let the below average weather deter you from fishing. The fish are still biting, and I’d take a mild day on the ocean in a hooded sweatshirt over a freezing cold afternoon bundled up in an ice shanty any day!
This past week we’ve had good success fishing for big kingfish (up to 30 pounds), Spanish mackerel, yellowtail, mutton and mangrove snapper, sailfish, and more.
What I like to do this time of year is head out to the edge of the reef, anchor up, and put a few live baits out on the kite. Kite fishing provides an excellent opportunity to catch a variety of species on the surface, including big kings, sails, wahoo, blackfin tuna, and winter time dolphin (mahi mahi); while at the same time keeping your hands free so that you can target your delicious snapper species.
Another benefit of using a kite is that it allows you to target sailfish when conditions are less than favorable for trolling or site fishing. With north winds bringing bay grass through the bridges and into the Atlantic, trolling can often be difficult. You have to continuously reel in your trolling rods time after time and clean the grass off your baits. Kite fishing limits this hassle.
Furthermore, on those overcast days when you can’t count on frigate birds leading you to the fish, kite fishing brings the fish to you. The fish can hone in on your kite bait from extremely far away and will get fired up when they see it dancing across the water.
On the other side of the islands, the fishing in Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico has been a little slow. The cold temperatures seem to affect the shallow water more than the deep waters of the Atlantic, and the fish have been tougher to come by. My advice if you’re planning on fishing the Bay is to head out into the Atlantic instead. The fishing has been more consistent, and you can catch a wide variety of fish just a few miles from the dock.
Over the next few weeks look for the edge of the Gulf Stream to push in closer to shore creating a sharp color change anywhere from 50 to 300 feet out. The bait should congregate here and this will be where you’ll want to target your pelagic species.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead:
Don’t let the cold deter you from fishing!
The weather may not be ideal, and you may not get that sun tan you were counting on. But the fish are biting, and the Keys are still the best place in the country to hit the water and spend a memorable day bending the rod.
81 year young Jim Barfield with a sail he caught with the assistance of first mate Wayne Burre aboard the Best Bet II this past week.