We’ve had quite a few cold fronts roll through the Keys over the past couple of weeks. A few of those fronts dropped temperatures down into the 40’s and 50’s! Brrrrrrrrr! Along with those fronts also came an unusual sight for locals, a very dense fog. This particular fog was eerie, as it blanketed most of the Middle Keys and lasted well in to the afternoon hours, for multiple days. The fog wasn’t only a challenge for people on driving around on dry land, it affected boaters on the water as well. Navigating the waters in the dense fog created challenges, but lucky for me, the fish didn’t seem to mind the conditions at all.
If heading offshore, keep an eye out for color changes in the water and weed lines. This time of year, the Gulfstream normally pushes in closer to the reef, creating rip currents and beautiful color changes. Sometimes these conditions can be found right on top of the reef, while other times you have to travel a little further offshore. Either way, look for the signs, because pelagic fish like to travel on the “Gulfstream Highway.”
If you don’t want to travel too far offshore in search of pelagic fish, there are plenty of areas to catch fish closer to shore, like the bridges and patch reefs. The mangrove snappers have moved back to the 7 Mile Bridge after the cold fronts pushed through. One reason for the recent movement is because strong north winds often push bait, like shrimp, through the bridge’s pilings. This entices predator species — such as the mangrove snapper, jacks, and mackerel — to move towards the area. We have been catching plenty of snappers between 3 to 5 pounds. I’ve been using small and medium pilchards, with a 3/8- or ½-ounce jig, depending on the current. I like to pitch my baits as close to the bridge pilings as possible, as that seems to be where the majority of the fish gather when the tide is running.
The action in the bay seems to be coming back to life, with water temperatures on the rise. Everything from mangrove, lane and mutton snappers as well as cobia, kingfish, Spanish mackerels, sharks, and goliath groupers seem to be hungry and ready to bite. Capt. Mike Biffel, of Big Dawg Sportfishing, reported some great Cobia catches 15 miles out in the bay. He caught the cobia on live pinfish, pilchards, and lures. Some of the fish weighed up to 30 pounds.
If you’ve been craving grouper for dinner, but haven’t been able to keep any since season is closed, you’re in luck. There’s still a way for you to get that grouper fix, without breaking the law. There are two grouper species that are still in open season — the snowy grouper and the yellow-edge grouper. These fish are normally caught in deeper water, anywhere from 400 to 900 feet. The most common technique for catching these deepwater species is to drop a chicken rig. This is a rig with multiple hooks, and can be baited with squid or bonita chunks. I recommend using a heavy weight and dropping it down on to a structure.
When you’re offshore dolphin fishing, keep an eye on your bottom machine, and look for significant variations in bottom elevation. Since you’re dropping your line hundreds of feet below the water surface, most people use an electric reel to bring up the fish. While having an electric reel is certainly helpful in this situation, it is not a necessity, you can always hand crank your fish using a regular spinning or conventional reel. If you do, you won’t need to go to the gym that day…or the rest of the week. It is an excellent upper body workout.
Windfinder.com (a great online tool for boaters) forecasts call for east winds from 10-15 mph this week, which makes for very comfortable conditions. We have very fishable days ahead, and now is a great time to get on the water and take advantage of a variety of different fisheries that are really heating up.
Capt. Ariel Medero is the captain of Big Game Sportfishing, located at the Hammocks of Marathon, MM 48. For more information, check out his web site at www.biggamesportfish.com or email him at [email protected].