There’s shopping to do and cookies to bake and houses to decorate. But you don’t want to miss some of the best fishing the Keys have to offer!
The reef will make all your Christmas dreams come true, with a bite that is on fire. Snappers, groupers, king and cero mackerel, cobias – you name it, we got it going on.
The shallower patches tend to hold the most fish this time of year, due to the presence of loads of ballyhoo. You’ll find plenty of yellowtail, mangrove and mutton snapper, black, red and gag grouper all occupying the same areas.
All but the yellowtails will eat a variety of live baits, such as pilchards, pinfish and ballyhoo. The ‘tails prefer cut baits or shrimp.
The snappers feed aggressively this time of year. Because of this, you need to use copious amounts of chum. On the days we find them reluctant, we spice our frozen block chum with SnapperUp and ChumDrop from Aquatic Nutrition.
This spurs on the feeding activity of the snappers which, in turn, creates a frenzy behind your boat that other species can’t resist. Everything imaginable is drawn to the increased activity. Quite possibly, especially if there are ballyhoo present in your slick, you’ll even have sailfish show up. So, be sure to have a live ballyhoo ready to pitch to them for a sure-fire way to liven up your snapper fishing experience.
Speaking of sailfish, they showed up this year in mid-October. Fishing for them has been consistently good ever since, and we expect it to remain so for December.
Ballyhoo is the prime food source for the sailfish this time of year. Major amounts of this baitfish have been pushing out from the bayside into the Atlantic, which should hold the sailfish in and around the reef for quite some time.
Mornings and evenings are the best times to target spraying sails, or all day long in cloudy conditions. Our usual midday tactic during December is to gather a bunch of live ballyhoo and put a spread out anywhere from 100 to 120 feet of water, as this is the area where the sailfish hang when not actively pursuing the ballyhoo up in the shallows in 20 to 30 feet. They will often attack a wayward ‘hoo that has wandered too far offshore.
Dolphin, tuna and more
Mixed in with the sailfish, we find dolphin, blackfin tuna, wahoo and king mackerel. Not a bad bycatch when you’re sport fishing!
For the wahoo and kings, we like to fish a deep bait about half way off the bottom or wherever the thermocline might be located. Pilchards and cigar minnows are best for this method.
On the Atlantic wrecks, there should be copious amounts of mutton snapper, amberjack, kingfish and wahoo. Live baits are key, including ballyhoo, pilchards, pinfish and small blue runners.
You can also expect to find large porgy in these zones. Shrimp is crucial for these tasty critters. Cero mackerel and mid-size kings fill out the offerings in these regions. Live ballyhoo, pilchards or small blue runners do the trick for these toothy fish.
Out in Florida Bay and around the bridges, we have good action on mangrove snapper. Small live pilchards and pinfish are your best choices as well as shrimp.
In the expansive grassy areas eight to ten miles out in the bay is where we also find massive amounts of Spanish mackerel. Shrimp on a jighead, small shiny spoons, small bucktails or live pilchards work best. Make sure you have a small, six- to eight-inch, trace of wire to prevent bite-offs.
In the Gulf of Mexico, we expect good fishing on the wrecks for cobia, gag grouper, Goliath grouper, sharks and mangrove snapper.
FREE Fishing Seminars
On December 6 at the Hyatt Place in Marathon, we kick off our 2017-2018 Keys Fishing Seminar Series. The topic will be Reef Top to Bottom, and the seminar runs from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Admission is free, and we will have some great prizes and giveaways.
On behalf of the entire SeaSquared crew, we thank you for reading our articles and wish you a joyous holiday season filled with family, friends and – of course – plenty of fishing! May all your wishes come true!
Capt. Chris Johnson
Marathon Florida Keys