The 12th Annual Leon Shell Memorial Billfish Tournament was held this past weekend in Key Colony Beach. Of the 18 boats that participated a total of 38 fish were released, marking the most combined sailfish caught in the tournament in recent years. I would like to congratulate the Main Attraction for winning this year’s event—nice work Marty, Jamie and Digger— and I would also like to acknowledge the Leon Shell committee and tournament sponsors who helped raise over $20,000 for Florida Keys Hospice and Visiting Nurses. Many outside of the event don’t get to see the hard work that goes into making this tournament possible, and every year generous businesses and volunteers throughout the Florida Keys go out of their way to support a worthy cause and make the Leon Shell Tournament a success.
While the Best Bet crew was atop of the leader board after the first day, we slipped to a respectable fourth place finish in the final standings. Though it was disappointing not to win top honors, we did catch fish, and I look forward to getting the team back together in 2011. I am also looking forward to this year’s tailing sailfish season. Reports of double digit catches have been trickling down from Miami and it shouldn’t be long before these same fish move into the Keys. Look for southeast prevailing winds to push the Gulf Stream closer to shore over the weeks ahead, and when that happens, be ready to head offshore.
As we stand right now, most sailfish as well as dolphin are being caught several miles out in the Gulf Stream. Those of you planning on venturing out should look for color changes and current edges, and you’re likely to have more success sight fishing for these species than trolling for them.
Closer to shore, the wrecks continue to produce excellent catches of mutton snappers and slob amberjacks, and the patch reefs remain consistent for your usual suspects of mangroves, yellowtails, muttons, cero mackerel, kingfish, and grouper— although it’s still illegal to harvest or possess grouper until May 1. While making the run to and from the reef keep your eyes peeled for cobias in Hawk Channel. Over the past few weeks we’ve been catching good numbers on the surface, and it’s a good idea to always have a pitch rod ready in case you happen upon a school.
Inshore, the cold water temperatures continue to have a negative effect on our shallow water fishery. From the flats, to the inshore waters of Florida Bay, we’re still waiting on warmer weather to heat things up and turn the bite back on. Until the water temps return to normal I highly suggest focusing your attention out front in the Atlantic where the fishing remains phenomenal both on the reef and offshore.
Your Best Bet for the Weeks Ahead: Get Ready for the Tailing Sails
The spring sailfish season is one of my favorite times of year to fish in the Florida Keys. Light tackle sight fishing for tailing sails is a true thrill for any angler and it shouldn’t be long before packs of these fish begin showing up in our local waters.
IMG0046 – Rhode Island residents Dan Oakley and Tim Flarehty needed none of their Irish luck this past week when fishing for mangrove snapper and mackerels on the Best Bet.
Doris Grouper – After a morning of fishing on the patch reefs, Doris Chinchar and Captain/Firstmate, James (Bucko) Platt show off one of the many legal gag groupers caught and released from the Best Best.