Don and Peggy Qually of Minnesota were able to land two permit on a recent charter offshore. Although anglers normally target them in shallow waters, at this time of year they are spawning in the deep.

The waters off Marathon are filled with people enjoying the Florida Keys lifestyle. You’ll find couples relaxing on a sunset cruise, partiers soaking up the sun at the Valhalla Sandbar, spear fisherman diving and deep-hunting for tasty grouper, and fisherman hooked up to a slammer dolphin. Everybody‘s out on the water! A combination of crystal blue skies, warm weather, calmer waters, and a large variety of fish swimming through the waters makes May one of the busiest months for charter fisherman.

Offshore, you can find large numbers of dolphin, wahoo, tuna, tripletail and more on floating debris and weed lines. If you’re on the hunt for dolphin (mahi-mahi), I suggest you take advantage of the early morning bite and leave the dock when the sun starts to come up. Don’t leave while it’s still dark though, you won’t be able to spot the fish. (In that case, the early bird doesn’t get the worm, because he can’t see it.) You won‘t have to run too far offshore. Captains are reporting nice-sized dolphins just 10 to 15 miles out.

But there’s more fish in the sea. I always like to keep one rod rigged with a vertical jig or deep diving plug on a stretch of wire when I‘m fishing the deep blue waters offshore. Sometimes you will come across floating debris or weed lines that have a wahoo or two swimming underneath

Once you’ve filled your fish cooler with offshore species, head to the wrecks and the reef for some excellent bottom fishing. Lately, the mutton snapper bite on the deep wrecks has been active, while the big yellowtails are still swimming up to the chum lines out on the reef. On the deeper reefs and wrecks, the black grouper has been the most common catch since the opening of grouper season on May 1. Captain James Simcic, of Spearcrazy Charters, was able to pole spear a 25-pound black grouper in 40 feet of water.

Spearfishing for grouper is definitely one way to bring home dinner, but there are also a number of ways to target them while still on top of the water. Trolling deep diving lures in 30- to 60-feet of water is a productive method. I prefer to anchor on the edge of the reef in 60 to 80 feet and drop live baits to the bottom. Using 60-pound test fluorocarbon leader gives you a good shot at stopping these powerful fish from getting back to the rocks.

Also on the wrecks, the permit spawn is still ongoing. Permit are not a common offshore catch, so it‘s a real treat for anglers to pull one into the boat this time of year. On a recent charter, I had some customers who were experienced fisherman, but had never landed a permit. By the end of the trip every single one of them had caught a permit, the biggest being 20 pounds, and they were able to check one item off their fishing bucket-list. The permit were caught on a wreck in 110 feet of water. I used small blue crabs for bait hooked on to a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a jig head.

The inshore bite for tarpon remains red hot with captains reporting multiple hook-ups on every trip. Target tarpon right before a tide change or right at sunrise or sunset. The bait varies depending on where you are fishing, and can range from live crabs and mullet to artificial jigs and flies. You can also fish for these silver-kings in a variety of areas as well. Beaches, flats and bridges are all great areas to target tarpon. If you have yet to catch up with your first tarpon, I highly recommend hooking up with myself or one of the many great Keys fishing captains and guides. It’s truly an experience you will never forget.


Leave a Reply