We extend best wishes for a Happy New Year. Key West Charter Fishing aboard the SOUTHPAW has yielded a mixed bag of fish over the Christmas holidays. We’ve caught a few Sailfish, a few Dolphin, a few Kings, a few Grouper, some snapper and some Cero. Bonita’s, Horse eye Jacks and other assorted members of the Jack Genus have thankfully enlivened several trips. The truth is fishing has been pretty slow of late so we have had to work hard on some days to produce good action. Here are a few good fish caught over the last week.
Monthly Archives: December 2013
Weâve had plenty of wind but only a modest amount of cool weather to begin the winter season. Out along the reef edge in the lower Keys, water quality has been an issue. Veterans of the fishing scene point to an ongoing lack of strong east current and clean blue water. Historically this has been a common condition but recently, a rare event. East current with clean blue water on the reef is conducive for the pelagic species such as Sailfish and Tuna. Notwithstanding the water quality, Both Sailfish and Tuna have increased in numbers but have often followed a pattern of one day on, one day off. Weâve had several good days on Sailfish with 6-8 bites but then had trouble finding a fish on a subsequent day. The Tuna have been scattered, often biting on the troll for an hour or so first thing in the morning or holding on various wrecks where heavy live bait chumming can stimulate a bite.
Wahoo which are most often associated with the afore mentioned east current have been scarce, although we may see action during the full moon later in the month. With lots of west current and off color water Yellowtail snapper fishing has been about the most consistent fishing activity. Large schools of Ballyhoo can be found around the patch reefs and high rocks along the reef edge and although it hasnât happened much yet, should lead to better fishing as virtually every predator from Cero to Mutton to Dolphin and Sailfish will find these food sources and feed aggressively. Be on the lookout for these âbait showersâ and be ready to match the hatch by casting a live Ballyhoo into these feeding frenzies. Hawks channel patch reefs start to get productive this time of year; expect all three common Grouper species, Red Black and Gag, many just short of legal size, and a few you canât stop. Slow trolling the patch reefs is another way to score with Grouper before the season closes Jan 1stHappy holidays to our entire readership. Tight lines and good luck.
Capt. Brad Simonds
Temperatures are falling and the wind is up as we transition into the fall and early winter season. Windy conditions can make it difficult for smaller boats to get out but north and northeast breezes with accompanying cooler temps are a necessary precursor for triggering the winter migrations which over time will improve the quality of fishing in the lower Keys. Already schools of Ballyhoo are congregating along the reef edge. This bait will in turn attract and sustain the game fish we associate with the late fall and early winter; Cero Mackerel, Sailfish, Blackfin Tuna, and King Mackerel. Localized concentrations of Ballyhoo will also produce feeding frenzies featuring Jack Cravalle, Yellow Jacks and Mutton Snapper.
The presence of Frigate Birds along with your own sharp eye sight will help determine where the ballyhoo are located. Ballyhoo are relatively easy to catch this time of year and will keep for a dayâs fishing in a live well which is round or oval and through which fresh salt water is pumped. If you anchor up current of where the ballyhoo are holding, soon enough they will swim up in your chum slick. I use a very fine mesh bag when chumming Ballyhoo so I donât attract too many Yellowtail and Cero who will spook the bait. Use a 3/8 or Â½ inch cast net or hair hooks to catch them live. 50lb mono with a 5/0 live bait hook is good for Sailfish while #3 wire with a trailing âstingerâ hook is good for the toothy critters. Use a short piece of copper wire to secure the ballyhooâs bill to the shank of your hook.
Fresh dead ballyhoo can also be trolled this time of year with good results. I rig with 60lb mono for Sailfish and Tuna and #8 wire for Kings and Wahoo. Fresh dead ballyhoo will troll for long periods without washing out and with the use of small chin leads can be made to swim like the real thing. Dead baiting allows you to cover more ground, look for color changes and current lines from tight to the reef edge out to about 300â.
I have often mentioned the eating quality of fresh Cero in this column so; given that this is the time of year when Cero are a commonly caught Iâll leave you with a simple recipe:
Filet the Cero and leave the skin on. Cut out the rib cage bones and the pin bones which extend for a few inches along the lateral line at the front of the filet. Place two filets of Cero, skin side down in an oiled baking pan, sprinkle with S&P and drizzle with lemon juice. Bake in a pre heated 350 degree oven for 6 minutes. While the fish cooks mix two parts mayo with one part stone ground mustard and a spoonful of horse radish. After 6 minutes slather the filets with this mixture and sprinkle the top with Panko bread crumbs. Return the pan to a higher rack in the oven and brown under the broiler, delicious.
Tight lines and good luck,
Capt. Brad SimondsÂ
This monthâs fishing report might be more accurately titled, my northern fishing vacation. Just as many of my readers leave the local area during the heat and humidity of Hurricane season, I too like to get away and wet a line in an utterly different fishing venue. This year I traveled to Wedgeport Nova Scotia to participate for the second year in a row in the annual Wedgeport Tuna Tournament. This 4 day event at the end of August attracts a fleet of âworkingâ boats, (there is no such thing as a sportfishing boat in this area) who compete to catch the largest Bluefin Tuna, of which only one may be weighed per boat, or go for the greatest combined poundage of Bigeye Tuna and Long Finned Albacore.
The largest Bluefins are always caught on the various 30 fathom banks within 20 miles of shore while the Bigeyeâs and Albacore are caught along the edge of the continental shelf which is 100 miles away. None of the participating boats has a cruising speed above 8 knots so they must strategize whether to make the long run offshore and remain at sea for the entirety of the tournament or stay inshore and target the Bluefins. Our group chose to fish for one large Bluefin, knowing that if we got lucky early, we could return to the wharf and rejoin the dockside merriment with a fish on ice, ready for the weigh in at the end of the tournament.
At 7:00 pm on Aug 22nd a lit flare and a blast from an air horn signaled to the assembled fleet that the tournament was on. Our destination was German Bank, a plateau of 30 fathom water lying some 20 miles south south west of Wedgeport. The Herring boats were reporting good catches from this area. Herring comprise the main food source for all the large Marine predators including Whales, Seals, and Bluefin Tuna. Find Herring and you will find Bluefins.
Three hours after leaving the dock we were located on the Bank. Twinkling lights near and far signaled the presence of the Herring fleet, a combination of Purse Seiners which wrap a net around a school and Gill netters who set a vertical net on the bottom. Herring fishing is done exclusively at night when the Herring rise higher off the bottom. There are strict seasons and catch quotas now for Herring as fisheries managers have come to understand the importance of Herring in the food chain.
We set up a drift close to a group of Seiners who were hauling back, knowing that Bluefins are often attracted to the scales and fallout herring from the nets. We had our own Herring aboard, some 500 pounds, and began the methodical process of chunking and chumming to attract the feeding Tuna. In the wheel house our Captain anxiously watched the depth machine for signs of the Tuna âmarkingâ under the boat. Our Tackle was as big as it comes in the world of rod and reel fishing, the equivalent of Elephant guns. Shimano Tiagra 130 class reels filled with 200 pound test Dacron and a header of 200 pound test mono. These reels were mounted on custom roller guide rods with aluminum bent butts. Fished out of a fighting chair gimbal and a bucket harness, an experienced angler can exert over 75 pound of drag to subdue a Giant Bluefin which is by a wide margin the most powerful fish in the ocean. We rigged 3 herring baits and deployed them at staggered depths as we chunked and drifted. Every hour or so we would pick up and move back up current to cover another section of the bank.
Located at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, this area has tremendously strong currents and some of the largest tidal changes in the world. As the night wore on we had periodic visitations from Grey Seals and several times heard the great inhalation of whales in the darkness, but we didnât mark the Tuna and we didnât get a bite. The air temperature dropped and a heavy mist drenched us with a clammy cold. The water temperature was 54 degrees. I found myself adding layers for warmth and donning full rain gear. At dawn, stiff and cold we began dropping quill rigs down to the bottom in hopes of hooking a few live herring to deploy on our Tuna hooks. For some reason the Herring never bite a quill at night so this was our first opportunity to try for live bait. No sooner did the first quill hit bottom and load up with quivering bait than the light rod bowed up and then straightened, something had eaten the quill off. Moments later the deep rod seemed to get very heavy but the drag didnât immediately crack.
We had something on but it seemed more like a Porbeagle Shark which infest these cold waters. Speculation turned to a Seal as the line angled up, still without any drag being taken. Just as we became certain it couldnât be a Tuna- whatever it was wasnât pulling hard enough, line started peeling off the spool and very quickly the mono header was off and we were well down in the backing. Nothing but a Tuna could sustain such a run against the 60 pound drag setting. Twenty five minutes later the fish was in sight, circling slowly 20 feet down. It was a good fish probably close to 500 pounds but maybe not a winner. We deliberated about whether to take the fish and decided slow as the fishing was, having one in hand was better than hoping to hook a bigger one. Leadering a giant Tuna requires strength, finesse and no small amount of courage. The idea is to make the fish swim towards the leader man as he shortens on the leader and then hold his head so he doesnât turn and kick back off, all the while avoiding pulling the hook or breaking the leader. This time it was deftly accomplished and within minutes thanks to a hydraulic boom, the fish was aboard. We noticed in examining the fish the remains of our quill rig protruding from his mouth. After a few quick pictures, the fish was lowered into an ice filled slush tank for the ride in.
Two days later at the weigh in our fish tipped the scales at 501 pounds gutted. It was the second largest caught in the event. The winning fish was also caught in the same location and weighed 676 pounds, thatâs a lot of Sushi!
Next month, back to the local fishing report.
Capt. Brad Simonds
We have had a long stretch of unsettled weather featuring South and Southeast winds of 15-20 knots combined with lots of rain, squalls and thunder storms which has no doubt disrupted plenty of fishing trips over the last several weeks. As we move deeper into hurricane season there seems little relief in sight. Early forecasting suggests that steering currents are favorable for the so called Cape Verde storms to track more consistently to the west in our direction rather than veering to the north as they did last season. Vigilance is the watch word. The offshore fishing report is pretty mediocre of late. Most of the Dolphin around are small, either side of the 20 inch minimum, with larger fish far and few between. The best action of late has been inshore from the reef edge to about 300â. Mixed in with the dolphin have been plenty of Little Tunny- particularly on the shallow side with a few small and medium Blackfin Tuna primarily outside of 250â. There are also scattered Wahoo bites in this depth as well as the occasional Sail. A week or so ago we did catch and release a Blue Marlin of about 175 pounds, the first Blue weâd seen all spring.
Fishing on the reef edge has been inconsistent, owing in large measure to rapid changes in the current condition along the reef. In the space of a week weâve had everything from roaring East tide to no tide to West tide. With the prevailing Southeast wind a medium West tide has been best for Yellowtailing. Grey or Mangrove Snapper are spawning this month and have already been biting decently in spots from 45â to 60â. The Mutton Snapper have also been active here and there, although their spawning activity is petering out. This is a good time of year to fish the sunset and early evening parts of the day when itâs a little cooler. All in all, the next couple of months is probably not a bad time to accept your buddyâs offer to come fish with him âup northâ. The Florida Keys may be the fishing capitol of the world, but the summer months are not our best. Good luck and tight lines.
Capt. Brad Simonds
To those who were expecting a May fishing report last month, I apologize, I couldnât find the time to get the report written with a busy fishing schedule and ended up missing the deadline. This monthâs report is part catch-up as a result.
Going back to May, we had no âcolor change tailing conditionâ as we often have early in the month. Wind and current were never right to create this phenomenon. Instead we had excellent Dolphin fishing beginning the first week of May which is a bit earlier than normal. This first of the season push of fish is characterized by the presence of Frigate birds following these migrating fish and by the tendency of these fish to be relatively close to shore. (from 400â in to the reef edge) These first run fish also tend to be relatively large sized. In addition to the Dolphin, May fishing produced quite a few Wahoo, typically found under debris or along current breaks or weedlines. Most of these spring Wahoo are small fish from 10 to 25 lbs with only the occasional larger specimen. Billfish bites were relatively common particularly in the first half of the month, with the vast majority being Sailfish. The May moon was on the 25th and a large fleet was on location to target the Mutton Snapper spawn. Poor weather and spotty results rapidly thinned the fleet.
Looking at June, first and foremost it represents the official start of Hurricane season and right on cue, our weather has changed. Low pressure, large areas of moisture and abundant cloud cover will typify our weather. Boaters venturing offshore will want to carefully check radar imaging before and during their trip. This time of year squall lines can pack dangerous winds and lightning strikes. As for the fishing, the best of the Dolphin run is already over but schoolies will be plentiful. Finding larger fish will be hard work on many days. Paying close attention for bird life and floatsom is a must. Big fish âare where you find themâ and that of course could be anywhere from the reef edge to well outside the wall. The June full moon will offer another chance to target Mutton Snapper as well as Mangrove, and Yellowtail. A pleasant reef trip can be had by departing the dock around 5:00pm and fishing through the sunset till full dark period. Good luck and tight lines.
Capt. Brad Simonds
Now comes April. Is it our favorite fishing month of the year? If not, it certainly makes the short list of the very best months. In April all things angling are possible because fish populations are migrating in and out of our area, and staging locally to spawn.
In the last week the number of Sailfish has increased dramatically and for the first time since early Jan we are actually targeting them specifically and catching them on a daily basis. Cobia too has been part of our recent catches and this too is a sign of the spring season. Look for color changes outside the reef edge in depths from 100â to 250â. Small boats can fish effectively by drifting these areas with live baits. Fish a couple of baits as flat lines on the up wind side of the boat and deploy a kite on the downwind side. Kite fishing is NOT particularly complicated, and the month of April is an ideal time to gear up and master this technique. In addition to the top water baits you can always put a leaded bait down and expect action from late season Kings and Mutton Snapper.
April is also the month that features dramatic color changes with the associated âtailingâ condition. East to North East wind blowing against a strong east current with a falling tide and or dirty inshore water butted up against blue Gulf Stream water creates this condition and the results can be dramatic. In a cloudless sky with high sun, on the right day you will see hundreds of fish from Bonita to Blackfin Tuna to Cobia, to Dolphin to Sailfish, even the occasional Swordfish, Blue Marlin and Mako Shark. Last year we saw a Bluefin Tuna of 500-600 pounds, 20 pound spinning tackle never seemed so puny!
April is still a little early for dependable deep water forays in search of Dolphin but if the weather is calm and there is nothing going on inshore it can be worth a look.
On the reef edge Yellowtail snapper are getting ready to spawn and are congregating in various spots. Choose your favorite Yellowtail spot on a day when the condition is right- a decent flow of current behind the boat and off color water. If you donât have current donât try to Yellowtail, save it for a day when itâs right. Enjoy the monthâs fishing opportunities! Tight lines and good luck.
Capt. Brad Simonds
As I write this column the temperature hovers around 60 degrees outside my window. It is likely that this will be one of the last cold fronts of the winter which influences the southerly and westerly migration of fish into the lower Keys area. Sailfish remain scarce in our area, with much greater numbers just east of us in Islamorada and Key Largo. March however often brings our first âtailing conditionsâ to the local area with a big improvement in the number of Sails around. Tuna have also been somewhat scarce, weâve been catching one here and there- best chance for Tuna currently would be the 200â water 20 miles and more west of Key West. King fishing remains our bread and butter âgo toâ fishery for dependable action. Plenty of Kings remain on both the Southside and up in the Gulf, with most of the larger fish (30-40 pounds) located in the Gulf. These big Gulf fish will readily eat trolled ballyhoo rigged just as you would for Wahoo. Frustrated Wahoo fishermen might have an enjoyable day by heading into the Gulf on a day which features South or Southeast winds and very lumpy conditions in the Gulf Stream. Not only will they find much calmer water, they may find the big Kings offer faster action and a similar exciting fight to Wahoo. Smith shoal and the Edmund Lowe are both close by and well known areas to try.
Out on the south side reefs, Yellowtail action is up and down. Several times of late weâve anchored down and watched huge schools respond quickly to the chum and rise right to the surface 15 yards behind the boat. On other days in the same location the fish seem absent. A little patience often pays off, if youâre not getting bit, stop fishing for a while, get your lines out of the water and just feed the fish. When you resume fishing, try just one line at a time. Sometimes less results in more.
For those who might be entertaining friends and family from up north and looking to satisfy the request to catch something BIG, Iâve got two suggestions- Sharks and Amberjack. Almost anywhere you anchor from the patches to the reef edge will produce Shark bites if you put a slab of cut bait or butterflyed Yellowtail on the bottom. Use a stout outfit with a piece of #8 – #10 wire and strong hook on the terminal end. You may also want to admonish your eager shark angler to âbe careful what you wish forâ as you lower the bait to the bottom. Amberjack will begin spawning in March and their numbers will increase dramatically around all the local wrecks, drift live bait or work a butterfly jig to get results. Good luck and tight lines.
Capt. Brad Simonds
A plague of windy weather has no doubt affected the fishing plans of many readers of this column. I can sympathize as even in my 43â Charter Boat we have lost a few trips of late. All wind is not the same of course and even relatively small boats can fish on the south side if the wind is out of the north; as the east-west laying Keys form a natural lee. Hawkâs Channel patch reefs are a great destination on days featuring 20 knots of North wind. On the other hand if the wind shifts into the SE or South, even more modest breezes will result in a lumpy sea state because the sea is building from the open ocean. Itâs not a bad idea on a day when you are weathered out to catch up on boat and tackle maintenance.
Fishing of late has been in a bit of a rut. Itâs pretty quiet offshore with just the occasional Wahoo, Blackfin Tuna, and Dolphin encountered. The past full moon yielded a small uptick in the Wahoo action but overall it was another disappointing winter moon for Wahoo. In closer to the reef edge, Sailfish remain scarce and the Tuna bite on the wrecks is intermittent. Fishing the deep water (150â â 200â) has yielded some nice catches of Mutton Snapper for those that know the spots. On the reef itself, Yellowtail Action has been so so â these fish are never as aggressive mid winter as they are with warmer water temps. Black Grouper are beginning to congregate on their historical spawning sites but must be released as the season is closed. King Mackerel and Cero along with various Jack species- Amberjack, Yellow Jack, Blue Runners and Cravalles have all been part of the reef mix. Is it too early to start to look forward to the spring migration?
Tight lines and good luck,
Capt. Brad Simonds
Fishing in the lower Keys and Key West area has been quite outstanding over the last several weeks, provided one has stocked the right bait and is pursuing the right quarry on the right day. We can expect this trend to continue in the month of January provided that temperatures remain near historical averages for this time of year.
King Mackerel are now abundant along various areas of the reef edge. These fish are fine light tackle fighters and are easily attracted to a chum slick particularly if the slick is sweetened with handfuls of live pilchards which have been more abundant this winter than in recent years. Blackfin Tuna are also holding on some of the wrecks and 20 to 30 fathom structure. As with the Kings, the Tuna will respond to live pilchards as well as âchunkâ chum. Grouper season on the Atlantic side is now closed through the end of April. The only Grouper fishery remaining open is for Redâs and Blackâs in Federal waters of the Gulf, which entails a long run out NW channel. Tight to the reef edge Yellowtail Snapper are biting well when there is decent current and slightly off color water. Cero mackerel are also prowling this area, try free lining a large live shrimp on #3 wire to entice a bite. As I have mentioned in this column previously, Cero are exceptionally good table fare, either skin side down under the broiler or skin off, chopped in a ceviche or Sushi.
Offshore the fishing has been inconsistent as is typical this time of year, you may ride offshore and find a weed line or debris holding Dolphin and Wahoo or you may draw a blank. One interesting note is the number of Blue Marlin which have been reported hooked or caught in the last month- many more than I can remember from past years at this time. On Calm days, daylight Swordfishing has produced fish, including one in Key West last week which weighed 365 lbs. Tight lines and good luck.
Capt. Brad Simonds