Summertime and the fishing’s fine in the Florida Keys!
The lazy days of summer are here and there’s no better way to idle away your time than with some fabulous Florida Keys fishing!
Snapper and grouper on the reef
Fishing for snapper and grouper on the reef has been off the chart for a couple of months and shows no signs of slowing down. The snapper are ready to spawn and will feed aggressively. The grouper are dining on the snapper and will be attracted to your offerings as well.
The yellowtail snapper range from just keeper size to as big as 25 and 26 inches. Provide them with lots of chum and they will respond aggressively, eating just about anything delivered to them.
Light tackle is essential to catch the larger flag ‘tails as they are much more wary than their younger siblings are. A good start is 12- to 15-pound test with 15-pound fluorocarbon leaders and #2 or #4 hooks. Baits such as silversides, glass minnows, filleted chunks of ballyhoo or peeled shrimp all work to entice bites.
If you think you may have mangrove or mutton snapper in your slick, tempt them with slightly heavier tackle, such as 15-pound test, 20-pound fluorocarbon leaders and a #1 to 2/0 live bait hook. Drift a larger chunk of ballyhoo or sardine back in your slick as you would for the yellowtails.
A 2- to 3-inch pinfish on a ¼ to 3/8 ounce Hank Brown HookUp Lures jig head presented back or near the bottom in within your chum will often entice these larger snapper to bite. You may also catch small bonito or blue runners while fishing for the snapper. These make fine cut baits.
Feeding on the smaller snapper are red, black and gag grouper. Large live baits, such as grunts, small blue runners and larger pinfish, will tempt them. Fish the baits on 30- to 40-pound tackle with a 6/0 live bait hook with a 40- to 80-pound fluorocarbon leader. I tend to use lighter leaders when the water is super clear and lean toward the heavier leaders as the water clarity decreases.
Beat the heat with nighttime snapper fishing
Many anglers like to beat the heat and fish for the snapper at night when air temperatures are more comfortable. The snappers lose their line shyness at night and are quite often found feeding aggressively just inches from your chum bag.
I like to get to my fishing area right around sunset. Begin to chum just as you would in the daytime but do not start fishing right away. Wait until it is fully dark. Be careful not to shine any lights over the side of your boat as this will spook the fish and you will get no bites. You do want to have your anchor lights on and, if you have them, some in-deck lighting as well. If you have none, I have used a waterproof battery operated lantern that you can find in most outdoor catalogs. Keep it on the boat deck to provide sufficient light to see what you are doing and where you are walking without disturbing the fish.
Your terminal tackle can be a bit heavier than you would normally use in the daytime. I usually use 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders and hook sizes from #1’s to 2/0. I even upgrade my tackle size from 12-lb to 20-lb. The reason for this is the mangrove snappers that will come up in your slick are so large you cannot stop them on 12-lb tackle before they break you off in the reef.
For baits, I use anything from frozen ballyhoo pieces to live pilchards, which may show up in your slick to be netted easily. Small live pinfish free-lined back in your slick work well too.
Dolphin, wahoo and tripletail offshore
Apparently, all those 19-inch dolphin we were seeing during June have either grown up or moved on. This is good news for anglers seeking a dolphin dinner.
The dolphin are popping up in the 400- to 500-foot depths. If you see a couple of birds working the surface, you’re almost guaranteed a school of dolphin under them.
Rigged ballyhoo is always to go-to bait for dolphin fishing. However, with conditions making for difficult running-and-gunning, a lot of anglers are trolling lures. Blue and white chuggers or Billy Bait type lures are always good on the brighter days. When it’s cloudy, anything with green and yellow seems to hold an edge.
Weed lines or floating debris always pay big dividends. Be prepared for a bonus wahoo by having a lipped diving plug rigged with wire or a heavy jet head lure, such as an Iland, with a rigged ballyhoo on wire.
Keep and eye out for tripletail around the debris as well. Your best tactic is to use a piece of shrimp on a 1/8 to ¼ ounce Hank Brown HookUp Lures jig head cast directly into the face of the tripletail. Most times the fish will inhale the bait without hesitation. Although prehistoric looking, tripletail are beautiful and delicious on the table.
Jacks and muttons on the wrecks
There are plenty of amberjack and large jack crevalle on the deeper wrecks and rough bottom patches along with a decent mutton snapper bite. Large pinfish will suffice for the jacks. The muttons prefer cigar minnows or threadfin herring, although a small pinfish will work in a pinch.
While we’re on the topic of toothy critters, the shark fishing on the bay grass flats and inshore wrecks has been excellent for both lemons and blacktips, with the occasional bull also taking a bait.
Most of the blacktip sharks average 3 to 4 feet in length and are great sport on light tackle. The lemon sharks are in the 4- to 7-foot range and put up quite a fight when matched with spinning gear. Catch-and-release shark fishing in waters as shallow as 4 or 5 feet, with sharks swarming around the boat, makes for awesome summer fun fishing.
For pictures, videos and more information about the fun and excitement of shallow water angling for sharks, please visit Florida Keys Shark Adventures.
The two-day Sport Lobster Season (known locally as lobster mini season) is July 28 and 29 this year. We encourage all to join us for great fun with tasty rewards.
At the same time, we ask you to exercise caution, as our waters will be congested with boats and snorkelers. Please be gentle with our reef. Please be respectful of your hotel/motel room or vacation rental. Please be courteous to your fellow visitors and the locals. Finally, please adhere to the regulations. Here is a link for complete information: http://myfwc.com/docs/RulesRegulations/Lobster_Brochure.pdf.