There is a lot of variety in the waters off the Middle Keys: mangrove snappers, yellow-tail snappers, mutton snappers, groupers, dolphin, sailfish, tuna and tarpon. (If you’re visiting, now is the time to hook-up with a local charter captain and experience some of the great fishing Marathon has to offer.)
For consistent rod-bending action this week, load up the chum and head out to the reef. From the patches out to the deep reef we’ve been reeling in excellent catches of muttons, mangroves, yellowtails and groupers. (Remember, you have to release groupers until season opens back up on May 1st; only a few weeks left!) If planning to fish the reef, I suggest taking a variety of baits and tackle to target the various species. For mangroves, the best results have been on the shallower patch reefs between 20 and 30 feet of water, fishing light 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders. Small pinfish fished on jig heads have worked well, with best results often coming on small live ballyhoo swimming in the chum slick that we’ve been able to throw the net on. While targeting mangroves don’t be surprised if you get a few shots at a keeper mutton or catch-and-release grouper as well. For yellowtails, the best results have been in the 40- to 100-foot depths, though opposing wind and current conditions have made fishing difficult at times. If you head out in search of tails and find that conditions are not favorable, don’t spend all day trying to yellowtail. Move in shallower and try for mangroves, or head offshore in search of dolphin and tuna.
There’s also been a good mangrove snapper bite back in the Florida Bay. Capt. Danny Strub of Bluewater Charters, located at The Hammocks of Marathon MM 48, produced an impressive catch of mangrove snapper and sea trout over the past week. He fished some structures and channels that are located in the bay. To fish for mangrove snapper in the gulf, you can use a variety of baits. Anything from shrimp to small pinfish will work as live bait. If you don’t happen to have anything still breathing, cut bait will work as well, as long as it’s “fresh. “ Sometimes you may find that cut bait will attract more bites over live bait. It just depends on the mood of the fish.
Offshore, the pelagic bite has been active. The number of dolphin swimming through our Middle Keys waters continues to grow. We’ve been finding most of the mahi’s beneath birds and floating debris, anywhere from the reef all the way to 6 miles out. The majority of the dolphin we are catching have been nice gaffers and large schoolies, so if you do find a pack of fish you should be able to load the coolers with some keepers. You may notice that the fish are a little picky lately, having live bait on board will definitely improve your chances of getting the fish to bite.
Overall, conditions for sailfishing continue to get better every week, so book your charter with any of the local charter boats, and they’ll put you on the fish.
Also offshore, the blackfin tuna action continues to be excellent, although the tremendous fishing pressure has been pushing the fish down deep at times, making them a little more difficult to catch. If heading out to the humps it’s not a bad idea to fish early in the morning or later in the day when there are fewer boats around. Also be prepared to use a variety of techniques to target the fish at the various depths. Jigging, trolling, and live baiting have all produced at different times in the day.