Cooling water temperatures signify a change in fishing seasons. While the weather is still relatively mild, the few degrees have proved to be enough over the past week to see plenty of wintertime pelagics move into the area.
Outside the edge of the reef, in 100 to 250 feet of water, there are still plenty of quality size dolphins from schoolies to gaffers moving through Keys waters. The frigate birds have consistently been following them and are an excellent indicator. Once you come across the frigates, trolling or casting live baits have both been effective methods for catching dolphin.
While the dolphin is still here, the arrival of the kingfish in these same depths is also a fresh indicator of the change in seasons. Most of the fish we have encountered are in the 5 to10 pound range with the occasional smoker mixed in. We have had the best success dropping live pilchards in 120 to 200 feet of water around both natural and artificial structures.
In more shallow waters inshore near the reef, our trips have been producing a wide variety of species. The snapper and grouper bite continues to improve, and the cero mackerels offer a ton of light tackle fun for anglers of all skill levels. We have seen the most action on the patch reefs in 20 to 40 feet of water. Live pilchards on a ¼ ounce jig head have produced the most bites of all different species.
Large schools of ballyhoo are also feeding around these same depths. Have your cast nets ready to capture these baits because it’s only a matter of time before a sailfish swims by the boat; if you don’t have a live ballyhoo in your live well, chances are you’re not going to catch him.
Look for the sailfishing to continually improve in the upcoming weeks. This past week we have had shots every day, but I expect the numbers to improve, especially with all the ballyhoo that has recently arrived.
Best Bet for of the week ahead: The patch reefs are on fire; don’t overrun all the action by going too far off shore.