Springtime brings a large variety of fish to the waters off the Middle Keys: mangrove snappers, yellowtail snappers, mutton snappers, groupers, dolphin, sailfish, tuna and tarpon.  If you’re visiting the area and want an unforgettable vacation experience, now is the time to hook-up with a local charter captain and experience some of the great fishing Marathon and the Middle Keys have to offer.

For consistent rod-bending action this week, load up the chum and head out to the reef. From the patches out to the deep reef we’ve been reeling in excellent catches of muttons, mangroves, yellowtails and groupers. (Remember, you have to release groupers until season opens back up on May 1; only a few days left!)  If planning to fish the reef, I suggest taking a variety of baits and tackle to target the various species.  For mangroves, the best results have been on the shallower patch reefs between 20- and 30-feet of water, fishing light 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders.  Small pinfish fished on jig heads have worked well, with best results often coming on small live ballyhoo swimming in the chum slick that we’ve been able to throw the net on.  While targeting mangroves, don’t be surprised if you get a few shots at a keeper mutton or catch-and-release grouper as well. If you’re interested in catching bigger yellowtails, the best results have been in the 40- to 100-foot depths.  Opposing wind and current conditions have made fishing difficult on some days, though.  If you head out in search of yellowtails and find that conditions are not favorable, don’t spend all day trying to yellowtail.  Move in shallower and try for mangroves and patch yellowtails, or head offshore in search of dolphin and tuna.

There’s also been a good mangrove snapper bite back in the Florida Bay.  To fish for mangrove snapper in the gulf, you can use a variety of baits.  Anything from shrimp to small pinfish will work as live bait.  If you don’t happen to have anything still breathing, cut bait will work as well, as long as it’s “fresh.”  Sometimes you may find that cut bait will attract more bites over live bait.  It just depends on the mood of the fish.

Offshore, the pelagic bite has been active. The number of dolphin swimming through our Middle Keys waters continues to grow. We’ve been finding most of the mahi’s beneath birds and floating debris, anywhere from the reef all the way to 900 feet of water. The majority of the dolphin we are catching have been nice gaffers and large schoolies, so if you do find a pack of fish you should be able to load the coolers.  You may notice that the fish are a little picky lately, so having live bait on board will definitely improve your chances of keeping the school around your boat for a longer period of time and then getting those fish to bite.

We’ve been having a big push of sailfish swimming through the Florida Keys over the past three weeks.  Most of the sailfish have been swimming shallow, right on top of the reef, anywhere from 50 to 120 feet of water.  When the conditions are right, an east current and an east wind, you will be able to spot many of these fish surfing the waves. This style of sight fishing for “tailing sailfish” has been the popular method to catch sailfish lately. But, if you head out and conditions are not perfect for spotting tailing sailfish, don’t worry, the fish are still out there.  Put a nice spread of live baits outs, and drift around that same depth.  Sailfish are moving through, and they will eventually find your baits.

I would like to congratulate Team Silent Hunter, out of Keys Fisheries in Marathon, Florida, for coming in third place overall for the Final Sail Sailfish Tournament this past weekend in Key West.  The team caught and released nine sailfish over three days of fishing.

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]

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