Last week we had a full day charter (eight hours). We left the dock early heading out to the Atlantic side around 7:30 a.m. I had a cooler full of dead bait and my live well was empty even though I knew that if I wanted a shot at nailing a sailfish and tuna, I would need live bait.

I anchored up just outside the sanctuary at Rock Key, south of Key West and just west of Sand Key Light. It took longer than normal but the ballyhoos popped up. I used a 12-foot cast net to get the ballyhoos. After I had a few dozen safe and sound in the bait well, I headed to a wreck I love to fish two miles south of Sand Key Light.

The wreck is in 190 feet of water and I anchored the boat out 200 feet in front of the wreck, careful to not slide too close. I use a No. 40 Danforth Anchor with 10 to 15 feet of thick chain. Keeping a distance will increase your hookup to catch ratio and will also save your tackle. Once securely anchored, we put bottom rods down hoping to catch mutton snapper.

The current was light, so I used a 6-ounce lead weight with 60-pound mono line to a No. 7 circle hook. We got the first rod down and before I could rig a second, we were hooked. We broke the ice in less than five minutes.

The mutton was not a monster — maybe 7 pounds — but it was a spectacular start. We then got the rest of the charter bottom fishing. We were steadily catching fish off the bottom.

The bottom bite was good, but it was only once I had put the kite up, connected to our two live ballyhoos, that the action really took off. Once the kite was in place it did not take long for fish to find our free-swimming bait. I was on the back deck of the boat looking back at my live baits when I saw a monster blackfin skyrocket out of the water near the far live bait I had out on the surface. I picked up the rod and fed out slack to let the ballyhoo have a bit of line. Another huge bust and the line popped out of the clip high in the sky. I knew he was on and I cranked as fast as I could to come tight on the tuna. The moment the line came tight, the tuna screamed off line like only a tuna will. I passed the rod to the client as line was still being ripped from the spool. Then I turned my attention to the other live bait I had out, because I knew that any moment it, too, would be devoured. Not ten seconds later another monster blackfin flew out of the water just behind the boat in hot pursuit of the one remaining live ballyhoo. Clip, pop, and reel the slack in quick — we had a double header.

We then fed live bait after live bait back, hooking more blackfin tuna and huge bonitos. When the action was all said and done and it was time to head in, we had five nice black fin, three bonitos, three monster porgy’s and three nice muttons.


Garrett Frey is a captain with Second Nature Charters. Visit the website at


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