Capt. Chris Johnson and SeaSquared Charters hosted his buddy, Frank Tansley of Beachwood NJ, to a day of snapper fishing at the historic 7 Mile Bridge. The mangrove bite was red hot, and they limited out on fish up to three pounds. Mixed in with the mangroves were lane and yellowtail snappers. All the fish were caught on shrimp. It was a great busman’s holiday for Capt. Chris and the snappers made for a delicious meal back home that evening for the Tansleys and the Johnsons.
Thanks to the return of normal weather conditions, the fishing has been astonishing. Since the fish were not eating to a great degree during the cold snap, they are hungry critters now and are biting just about anything and everything they can get their mouths around.
Beyond the reef, the dolphin fishing has been surprisingly good, considering the time of year. We normally would not see numbers like this until May and June. They are here now and many Captains are taking advantage of them, having the greatest success with rigged ballyhoo as bait. It is also a good idea to keep live baits such as pinfish and pilchards on the boat just in case the dolphin snub your dead bait offering. You will find dolphin in plentiful numbers anywhere from the deep edge of the reef out to 600 to 800 feet of water at the hump.
Speaking of the hump, the blackfin tuna fishing in that area has been active of late. Use live pilchards, butterfly jigging or small feathers trolled way back behind your boat. You can also take some rather large amberjacks on butterfly jigs at 300 to 400 feet of water.
Inshore on the wrecks and rough bottom patches, the mutton snapper fishing has been consistent with most fish averaging 12 to 18 pounds. Live ballyhoo, caught on the reef while yellowtailing, are producing the best catches of muttons. As the water temperatures have warmed with the improved weather conditions, fishing on the reef has really heated up. A nice mixed bag of yellowtail and mutton snapper in addition to some hefty grouper are being caught in the 30 to 60-foot depths. The yellowtail have been a tad finicky, so be sure to take a variety of bait, such as frozen ballyhoo, shrimp and squid plus an abundance of chum to entice these tasty snappers.
The best action currently is on the patch reefs, with a staggering variety of fish to be had. My charters over the past week have caught Florida pompano, sheepshead, hogfish, all variety of snapper, all variety of grouper, Spanish, cero and king mackerel. Just look at the pictures here. For all of these, I had my anglers use shrimp fished just off the bottom. In a typical half-day charter with four anglers, I take a minimum of 15 dozen shrimp and, most often, I am out of bait by the end of the trip (half day = four hours).
The 7 Mile Bridge has also been consistent lately so, if the wind is blowing too hard to fish the patches, set course for the old span. Be sure to take plenty of bait and chum. I usually fish one piling for about an hour and move a couple of pilings down, fish another hour, and so on. The variety and intensity of snapper action here is remarkable. You will catch mangrove, yellowtail, lane and mutton as well as grouper and the occasional hogfish.
In the bay, mangrove snapper fishing around the banks has been outstanding. For the most part, cut ballyhoo does the trick. Six to ten miles out in the grassy areas, you will have success with the Spanish mackerel hitting a variety of baits and lures.
With an influx of visitors this time of year, boating can get congested so please use courtesy on the water. By all means, don’t let that keep you at the dock! Get out there and enjoy the variety that is the spice of fishing the Keys in February!
Capt. Chris Johnson and SeaSquared Charters took advantage of the strong bite at the 7 Mile Bridge for his trip with the Christensen family, owners of Scott’s Bait and Tackle in Bradley Beach NJ. In just a half day of fishing, they had a limit catch of mangrove snappers as well as some yellowtails mixed in for good measure. A couple of short grouper were also caught and released. L-R: Scott, 11 year old Andrew, John and Leroy Christensen from the Jersey Shore.
Maryland couples Ray and Beverly Wall and Mike and Judy Evans spent a half day of patch reef fishing with Capt. Chris Johnson and SeaSquared Charters. Despite the intermittent bouts of heavy fog (unusual for the Keys), they caught 25 yellowtail snapper, some nice mangrove and lane snapper as well as innumerable small mutton snapper which were all released. To spice their catch, they had two big gag grouper, five large hogfish about 17 inches, Florida pompano and a nice sheepshead.
Tom and Kelly Buffum from Illinois returned again this year for a half day of patch reef fishing with Capt. Chris Johnson and SeaSquared Charters. They caught a mixed bag of snappers, including yellowtail, mangrove, lane and mutton. They also caught hogfish, Spanish mackerel and numerous just-short grouper which were released unharmed. The Buffums went back to their condo with a nice bag of fillets for dinner.