Unless your favorite on-the-water activity is kite boarding or windsurfing, you likely weren’t too thrilled with the windy conditions that greeted the Keys this past week. Those of you who traveled here expecting calm tropical breezes, endless sunshine, and crystal clear waters, were instead welcomed by 35-knot winds, grey skies, and murky green water that more resembled a Popeye spinach shake than the beautiful turquoise seas we’re accustomed to admiring.
Unfortunately, strong winds can make fishing quite a challenge this time of year. But that doesn’t mean you should stay at the dock. There are a variety of inshore fishing options available to anglers even in the windiest of conditions (minus hurricanes), and even though you’re unable to head offshore to pursue the large pelagic game fish, it doesn’t mean you can’t catch trophy fish close to home.
On a single trip aboard the Best Bet this past week we caught ten mutton snapper up to 15-pounds, big mangroves, keeper red grouper, and large flag yellowtails. And we didn’t have to brave the large waves out on the deep reef to record this amazing catch. Everything was caught inshore!
What I like to do when the conditions are less than favorable is to anchor up in 25 to 45-feet of water and target the grouper and snapper species that move in from the deep reef to prey on ballyhoo. I’ll find a good, lively bottom, get a consistent chum slick flowing, and then wait patiently for the ballyhoo to swim up and catch them using hair hooks or with the cast net. Then once I’ve loaded up the live well I’ll drop down a live ballyhoo hooked on a jig head (5/8 oz. worked best this past week), or flat line a plug of cut ballyhoo with its head and tail removed. Both methods are extremely productive and work especially well for targeting muttons.
If you find that you’re getting cut off by mackerel don’t be afraid to use a small stretch of wire. With the water as cloudy as it is the muttons will still bite and the wire will prevent you from constantly having to re-rig after you reel in an empty line after empty line. The kingfish, cero, and Spanish mackerel are all extremely aggressive right now and you can run you through a packet of jig heads in a matter of minutes.
Another option when the winds are blowing is to fish the bridges. In Marathon, the Seven-Mile Bridge is home to an extremely productive mangrove snapper fishery where you can also catch grouper, jacks, sharks, tarpon, the occasional snook, and more.
For fishing the bridges I prefer to use live pilchards or small pinfish fished on a jig head, although fresh cut ballyhoo and live shrimp will also do the trick. Pay attention to the tides and wind direction as it will be much more enjoyable to anchor up when the current and the wind are heading the same way. Not only will this make it easier to anchor your boat in the position you will want to fish, but it will also make it easier to cast your bait towards the pilings where you’ll catch the majority of your fish.
A third option for seeking refuge from the wind is to fish the shallow waters of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Captain Mike Biffel of Big Dawg Sportfishing (reports that the Gulf is loaded with cobias and that this week he caught 20 cobias on a single trip (keeping his limit of four and releasing the rest). Captain Mike knows the in and out of fishing the Gulf and I highly recommend taking a trip with Big Dawg Sportfishing (305-481-4587) if you’re interested in taking advantage of the red hot cobia action.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Don’t let the winds deter you from fishing.
Never let the conditions ruin your Florida Keys fishing trip. From the patch reefs, to the bridges, to the Gulf, the Keys offer a productive inshore fishery where you can bend a rod even when the wind starts to blow.
Mangrove: This is a great time of year to catch large mangrove snapper on the patch reefs and at the bridges.
Rack: Despite the winds we were able to catch muttons, mangroves, yellowtails, grouper and more aboard the Best Bet this past week.
Mutton: Nice mutton caught aboard the Best Bet on Monday.