Our first minor cold front pushed through the Keys this week, bringing with it high winds and rough seas that left many of us stuck at the dock with our eyes glued to the weather channel. Fortunately, conditions are forecast to improve over the coming days, and last week’s temperature drop should have a positive impact on the fishing. In particular, more pelagic species should begin their push south into Keys’ waters. Kingfish, sailfish, and blackfin tuna will all start showing up in greater numbers as the weather cools, and with all the ballyhoo still around, once the pelagics arrive, they should stick around a while.
It’s still a little early in the game for the pelagics to show up in consistent numbers, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t yet get a shot at that big smoker king or high-flying sail. The reef has been red hot lately, and the usual cast of reef dwellers should provide plenty of action. On the deep reef, in 60 to 100-feet of water, the grouper bite has been superb. Fish a live bait on the bottom and you should have a good shot at taking home some tasty grouper filets while they’re still in season.
Also on the deep reef, the yellowtail snapper fishing has been nothing short of excellent. When fishing for yellowtails I suggest starting out with a 15 to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, with at least 15-pound mainline. Most of the fish we’ve been catching have been big flags and you’ll need every bit of line strength to get these fish to the boat. What I like to do is fish a heavy leader in the beginning, when the fish tend to bite better, and then lighten up as the bite slows. Fortunately, there haven’t been too many sharks on the deep reef lately, so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting bit off while battling the big flags.
While anchored on the reef, it’s worth putting a live bait out on the kite or in the riggers for a shot at a pelagic. Often a kingfish, sail, or dolphin will be enticed by the action behind the boat, and will swim in to take a closer look. Send out a live ballyhoo, pilchard, or blue runner and you never know what may swim by and slam your bait.
When the wind is blowing, especially out of the north, don’t hesitate to anchor up and fish Hawk Channel. Since you’re only a mile or two from shore conditions are generally more favorable than on the reef, and you can catch a wide variety of species including snapper, grouper, big kingfish, and the occasional cobia. Fish the channel humps with live bait, particularly shrimp and pilchards, and you should be able to bend the rod on some quality fish.
Your Best Bet for the Weeks Ahead: Live Bait!
Spend the extra time before your trip loading the livewell with live bait. Whether it’s throwing the cast net on pilchards; anchoring up for ballyhoo on the reef; or even catching pinfish in your pinfish trap, a livewell full of live baits can make all the difference in the world.