This past Monday I had the pleasure, scratch that, the unique experience of fishing with Jason Koler (aka, the husband of the owner of the Weekly Newspapers), as well as a few of his high school buddies that came down from Ohio. And not to be left out, the husband of the owner of Sparky’s Landing in Key Colony Beach, Matt Anthony, came along for the ride as well.
What appeared on paper to be the fishing team equivalent of the Cleveland Browns — with a handful of walleye fishermen; a restaurateur; and a lanky, subpar writer onboard — turned out to be quite the group of proficient anglers when it was time to get the baits into the water.
The trip began with the goal of catching enough snapper for a few dinners, as well as live well full of ballyhoo that we would use to pursue the large pelagic (migratory) fish that have ventured into the Keys waters over the past few weeks. Following the gale force winds that blew through here the week prior; we’ve been catching dolphin, sailfish, cobia, Wahoo, kingfish and more in 20 to 250 feet of water, and I was excited about the prospect of introducing shallow water big game fishing to a group of fishermen (with the exception of Matt) that have never experienced the thrill before.
Unfortunately, anchored up in 40-feet of water off Marathon, with zero current to get the chum slick moving, we were unable to get the snapper and ballyhoo fired up and decided to pull the hook and go in search of stronger water flow. After running the reef line towards the west we finally found good current off Bahia Honda State Park and after only an hour of fishing limited out on large, two to five-pound mangrove snapper, and loaded up the live well full of ballyhoo.
Satisfied with enough tasty fillets to feed the crew during their trip to the Keys, we prepared the live bait rods and began scouring the horizon for bait sprays and frigate birds working the deck. In a short time we encountered our first sailfish, but despite an ideal bait presentation the sail wanted nothing to do with our ballyhoo.
Two minutes later we spotted a shower of bait in 25-feet of water and found a nice pack of gaffer-sized dolphin chasing a school of ballyhoo. Amid the pandemonium that ensued on deck with multiple dolphin (mahi mahi) hooked up at once, we managed to not lose a single fish and went five for five on quality dolphin all between 12 and 20-pounds.
This time of year it’s not uncommon to find schools of dolphin in the shallows feeding on the mass quantities of bait hanging around inside the reef. And many of these fish, which might have weighed seven or eight pounds in the summer, now tip the scales at 15 to 16-pounds because of a hearty diet of ballyhoo.
The downside of all the bait is that often the dolphin you find inshore this time of year are more lethargic and less aggressive than the offshore fish you encounter during summer. Nevertheless, always have a live bait rod ready when out fishing the reef because there is a good chance you’ll see dolphin, and despite their already full bellies, with the proper presentation you will catch them.
After the initial pack of dolphin caught by the Koler crew we were able to catch five more singles for a grand total of ten. Mixed in with a rack full of quality mangrove snapper I would have to say that it was a successful trip for the local boys and the guys from Ohio and I look forward to fishing with all of you again very soon.
Koler Crew“Best day of fishing…ever,” said Ohio visitor Shawn Geldine. “This day is right up there with the birth of my kids!” Pictured, from left with a rack full of dolphin and mangrove snapper: Weekly assistant owner Jason Koler, Sparky’s Landing assistant owner Matt Anthony, and two perch fishermen from Ohio – Brent “Vernon” Drossel and Shawn “Beaker” Geldine.