The Winds of Winter

The Winds of Winter

Steven King should write his next novel based on the near hurricane-force winds that ripped through Marathon this past week. He could simply call it The Winds, and frighten readers with prose about flying picnic tables, terrifying lightning strikes, and dime-sized hail (it’s very rare that we get hail in the Keys).

He could do a better job than I describing the storm that produced 60 to 70 mile-per-hour sustained winds; terrified more than a few people at the Island Tike Bar and Restaurant when a 150-pound picnic table was hurled through the air; and brought down several trees and power poles throughout the islands.

Fortunately, hurricane conditions are not common in the Florida Keys during February. Unfortunately, gusty 20 to 25-knot winds are- and they can make fishing quite challenging and uncomfortable for both anglers, and charter boat crews. They also serve as a reminder to always make sure your boats are properly tied down and secured.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had to battle not only the cold fronts, but endure these winter winds as well.  The conditions have been less than favorable for fishing offshore and on the deep wrecks, but we were able to get out a few times over this stretch and were rewarded with solid and somewhat unexpected catches.

On the deep wrecks we continued to reel in good numbers of keeper mutton snapper and hard-fighting amberjacks- while offshore we were please to find big bull dolphin upwards of 30-pounds still in the area. It just goes to show that you never know what you’re going to catch in the Florida Keys once you put the baits out.

If you are fishing offshore and the skies are overcast (like they have been lately), I recommend trolling live baits or rigged ballyhoo with brightly colored Billy Baits or trolling skirts. When the skies are dark we can’t rely on frigate birds to help us find the fish, and trolling baits can be the most productive way to catch any of the pelagic species, including sailfish, wahoo, kingfish, and even the large winter-time dolphin. Always keep an eye out for and be prepared to chase down free-jumping sailfish or fish spraying ballyhoo as well.

Despite the cold and windy conditions we’ve also experienced good success at the shallow reefs, with the snapper and grouper bites remaining hot. Quality red groupers and large mangrove snapper in the five-pound range highlight the more targeted species currently being caught. The cero mackerel also continue to lurk around and provide exciting light tackle action.

Inshore, Captain Chris Morrison is still waiting on southeast breezes to push warmer water onto the flats and bring the bonefish and the rest of the sought after inshore species back into the shallows. In the meantime, he’s been enjoying non-stop action of pompano, jacks, bluefish and snappers. To book a trip with one the Keys best inshore guides, call Chris at 305-393-2353, or check out his new website at http://www.captchris.com.

Your Best Bet for the Weeks Ahead: Don’t let the winter winds deter you from having a memorable day on the water in the Florida Keys. My 30’ Island Hopper, the Best Bet, has a stable platform that handles windy conditions and “sporty” seas quite well. So don’t let your fear of getting seasick keep you at the dock- the Best Bet is designed to provide a calm and comfortable fishing experience.


Mac Little caught this quality 25-pound dolphin while fishing aboard the Best Bet this past week.


Filling the rack with wintertime dolphin is always a welcomed surprise.


Florida Bay can offer refuge when the winter winds start howling. Even in 20 to 30 mph gusts this group had a blast catching their limit of mangrove snapper aboard the Best Bet.

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