After indulging in the grand Thanksgiving Day meal Ann Nash prepared, I can barely keep my eyes open, let alone write down all my thoughts on fishing. (Thanks for the wonderful meal Ann!) Fortunately, the fishing in the Florida Keys can easily be summed up in just one word…outstanding! Offshore, inshore, at the reef, on the channel humps—anywhere you drop a line you’re sure to have plenty of action.
This past week high winds made it difficult at times to get offshore. This is hardly uncommon in the Keys during the fall and winter months, and it’s something we have to prepare for in advance by having an alternative game plan. If you’re only in the Keys for a short period, you have to be ready to adapt your fishing styles to the weather. Just because you may not be able to go out and target sailfish on the reef, or big mutton snappers on the wrecks, it doesn’t mean you can’t catch plenty of memorable fish closer to home where conditions are more favorable.
One “alternative” I suggest is fishing the bridges for mangrove snapper. The mangroves have been thick around the pilings at the larger Keys bridges, providing consistent rod-bending fun for anglers of all skill levels—as well as coolers full of tasty snapper fillets! Plus, one of the best things about fishing the bridges is you never know what you might catch. In addition to big mangroves, the bridges also hold keeper grouper and muttons, hard-fighting jack species, tarpon and much more.
When fishing the bridges, I prefer to use live bait fished on a jig head that’s heavy enough to keep the bait swimming in the current, but not too heavy that the bait sinks to the bottom. Live shrimp, small pinfish, live and fresh-cut ballyhoo will all entice the bite; however I recommend using live pilchards if you’re able to catch them.
Some other things to consider when fishing the bridges:
• Bull sharks have been thick around the bridges, so if you do hook up with a nice mangrove, try and get it to the boat as soon as possible.
• If you’re not getting the bites, don’t be afraid to try a new spot or drop down to a lighter fluorocarbon leader.
• The fishing tends to slow down during the slack tides. If you find yourself with no current, be patient and wait for the bite to turn back.
• The mangrove snapper bag limit is five per harvester per day.
• Mangroves must be 10” or greater to keep.
If the weather does allow for you to venture offshore or to the reef, don’t hesitate to take advantage of it. Offshore, the swordfish bite is heating up, and the blackfin tuna fishing continues to be excellent on the hump, just be aware that the sharks are also thick. Closer in, the deep wrecks have been active with mutton snappers and are really beginning to load up with quality kingfish. On the reef, we’re still catching big mangroves and yellowtails, and the sailfish are getting thicker and thicker as the days progress.
Your Best Bet for the Week Ahead: Go Sailfishing!
If you’re looking for an exciting day on the water, I highly advise targeting sailfish while you’re in the Keys. The sailfish bite has been superb, and we love taking people out and helping them catch their first sail! Just stop by one of the Best Bet boats, located on the Key Colony Beach causeway, and we’ll be glad to set you up with a trip.
Capt. Bobby “Mawske” Manske and first mate Wayne Burre put Rob Scrage from Bethel Ohio on this 40 lb wahoo last week. The group also caught and released two sailfish.
Brent Drossel (left) of Woodville, Ohio landed his first sailfish aboard the Best Bet II with Capt. Ariel Medero and Capt. Jason Long. The fish was estimated at 7ft. and 50 – 60 lbs.