two men on a boat holding a large fish
The new two-fish-per-boat limit is keeping the black grouper population thriving around lively reefs. NICK BORRACCINO/Keys Weekly

I’ll tell you what, the fishing is Saul Goodman. More or less all around.    

The beginning of grouper season (May 1) has been, up to this point, as good as I’ve seen it, particularly for black grouper. Hopefully, the new two-fish-per-boat limit will help keep it consistent for a while. There’s usually one or two good-sized black groupers around every lively reef holding yellowtail. I typically look for those fish in 50 to 120 feet. Use large baits on heavy tackle suspended far enough off the bottom to not get stuck, and when you get a bite, stop ’em or pop ’em! Those fish are incredibly powerful and will get in or around something down there in a hurry.

I usually target yellowtail at the same time, which has been very good as long as there is some current. Whatever you do, don’t run out of chum, or the party will be over.

Although I personally haven’t been offshore much recently, all reports indicate a pretty solid amount of mahi, including some big ones. Deciding how far out to go offshore has been all over the place. Lots of fish are being caught inside 650 feet, and plenty as far out as you want to go. Troll one up with a rigged ballyhoo or your favorite lure. Have some chunks and/or small to medium-size live pinfish at the ready for the herd. Keep the first one in the water for a bit to attract others.

a group of fish hanging from a boat
The water is alive with action, offering plenty of fish for those who stay near shore or venture out. NICK BORRACCINO/Keys Weekly

It’s also deep drop time, one of my favorites. You never know what you’ll pull up. But, if you’re looking for blueline tilefish, they’re typically in 500 to 700 feet; snowy and yellow edge grouper, 600 to 900 feet; rose fish, golden tile and barrel fish, 800 to 1,300 feet; and queen snapper, 500 to 800 feet.

I haven’t had much reason to head into the Gulf lately, and I haven’t heard of much happening there since it’s gotten hot, with the exception of some really, really long-range trips. The permit action on the spawning wrecks will start to dwindle very soon but there’s still some there. Tarpon are still in good numbers around the bridges, but we will very soon be past peak.

 Get it while the getting is good!

To book a trip with Captain Nick and Noreaster Sportfishing, call 508-769-4189.

Nick Borraccino
Captain Nick Borraccino is the owner and operator of Noreaster Sport Fishing, based out of the Island Fish Co. in Marathon. A Massachusetts native, Nick grew up commercial fishing for bluefin tuna and striped bass. He has been fishing in the Keys full time since moving here in 2005. Noreaster offers everything from flats to offshore on boats ranging from 18 to 35 feet.