A year ago we were experiencing one of the worst Dolphin fishing seasons in anyone’s memory. This year the Dolphin fishing is much improved with steady action over the last three weeks or more. We have not seen many of the classic east west weedlines which were a feature of Dolphin fishing in the past but there have been plenty of areas of scattered weed holding fish and plenty of birds to show us the way. The most important birds indicating the presence of Dolphin include Frigate birds, Noddy’s and Bridled Terns. The shearwaters which are also common typically indicate Skipjack Tuna. To maximize my clients chances for success, I spend all day in the Tuna Tower which gives me a superior observation post. Plenty of lithium batteries to power the stabilizing feature in my binnoculars allows me to find birds far on the horizon which would be invisible to the naked eye.
Water temperatures are falling as cool weather arrives in our area and the first cold fronts of the year pass through the Fl Keys. Ballyhoo are everywhere along the reef edge which attracts both pelagic species from offshore, and reef species to this abundance of bait. This is the time of year when sight casting for Sailfish is productive. After loading our live wells with Ballyhoo we patrol the edge of the reef in search of Frigate birds and the frantically showering schools of bait which signal the presence of Sails as well as other predators such as Cero, Yellowjack, Dolphin and Blackfin Tuna. An accurate cast with a frisky live Ballyhoo almost always results in a hookup. With our Tuna tower and oversized live wells the SOUTHPAW is ideally designed for this exciting fishery.
After a terrible month of May during which the annual Dolphin migration never really materialized, fishing during June has been very uneven. On longer days we have elected to go offshore but results have been inconsistent. Some days we’ve found a few Dolphin and return to the dock with 10-12 fish,Â although there has been little in the way of weed lines and very few birds.Â We have been getting a few billfish bites in addition to the Dolphin, mostly Sailfish but also the occasional Blue Marlin and White Marlin.Â other days it seems like an empty ocean and we have had to run far and wide to avoid being skunked. On shorter days we have fished the reef and produced some decentÂ catches of flag Yellowtail and big Muttons. Other days with poor current conditions we have struggled to catch a fewÂ Yellowtail. Very inconsistent.Â All in all, the disappointing season continues.
In a normal year we think of April in Key WestÂ as being one of the finest fishing months. This is a month when seemingly everything is biting. Sailfish are typically abundant as they begin their spring migration along with Cobia and some of the largest Blackfin Tuna of the year. Dolphin also typically put in an appearance as the early fish arrive in our area. Along the reef edge King Mackerel are still common and Snapper and Grouper fishing continues strongly.
ThisÂ year the month of AprilÂ has frankly been a disappointment. The Sailfish migration has been slow to non existant and Tuna and Cobia have been scarce. We have relied on reef fishing to provide action for our clients. On many days we have done a little bit of everything from trolling to live baiting to bottom fishing in order to maximize our chances.
Fishing during the month of March has been steady if unspectacular. King Mackerel have been a main stay for those seeking action. We have been catching them regularly up to about 25lbs using live bait and 15lb test spinning outfits. These fish are hard fighters on this type of gear. Yellowtail Snapper have also been abundant during the month. This has fit the bill for those interested in good eating fish. Yellowtail require a bit of finesse to hook and then are scrappy fighters. Mixed in with the Yellowtail have been, Mutton Snapper up to 12lbs and a few out of season Grouper as well as Amberjack, Little Tunny and Cero.Â For our clients who are looking to tangle with big fish, there has been a steady bite of Bull Sharks. We have caught and released numerous Bulls during the month weighing between 300-400 pounds.Â Dead bait trolling has produced Blackfin Tuna particularly during the later afternoon. Sailfish remain relatively scarce although there have been signs of improvement as the month has gone on. Sailfish should become much more abundent as we move into April.
Cold and windy weather has predominated during the month. We have lost a few days to weather and fished many others when conditions were tough. The colder weather has induced better Sailfishing, but by no means as good as it could be. There have also been a few Blackfin Tuna and Wahoo mixed in. King Mackerel are finally arriving in better numbers and have become a dependable part of our catch. The reef edge has been active on days when there is a decent flow of current. Flag size Yellowtail, Mutton Snapper, out of season Grouper along with Tunny and various Jack species have kept the rods bent on days when we had to hunker down and deal with a sloppy sea state. Adequate supplies of live bait whether they be Pilchards, Thread Herring, Goggle Eyes, or Ballyhoo are critical to our success. Bait has been tough this month, requiring a lot of extra work to procure. none the less we strongly believe live bait fishing produces better results this time of year than deadbait trolling.
Unseasonably warm weather continues to be the main story with regard to Key West fishing. As we move into January and what should be the heart of winter time fishing, two species which we count on this time of year are notably absent or here in greatly reduced numbers- Sailfish and King Mackerel. In both cases it seems that there are good numbers of both of these fish located north of us in the case of Kings and East of us in the case of Sailfish. Both of these migratory fish will stay in their comfort zone until cooler water temps force them in our direction.
Blackfin Tuna have been around in reasonable numbers along with gaffer Dolphin and a few Wahoo. The reef action has been steady for Yellowtail Snapper, Mutton Snapper, Cero, and Black and Red Grouper. Grouper season closed on Jan 1 so for the next several months this will be a catch and release fishery. I have no doubt that when and if cooler weather arrives later in the month we will see some outstanding fishing.
Blackfin Tuna have been the highlight of Dec fishing in the Key West area. The Blackfins are holding on many of the area’s deeper wrecks. We have been live baiting these fish using both Ballyhoo and Pilchards. By throwing net fulls of live chum behind the boat we are able to draw the fish to the surface and create a feeding frenzy which leads to exciting top water strikes. Sailfish remain scarce, the weather continues to be unseasonably warm and most of the Sails remain North and East of us. More Wahoo are being caught as we move closer to the full moon. The Dec moon is always one of the best for Wahoo.
Along the reef edge; Cero, Yellowjack, Yellowtail, Grey and Mutton Snapper are biting with the occasional Black, Red or Gag Grouper thrown in.
This year temperatures have been slow to fall with the result that the type of fishing we expect to see in Nov has been slow to develop. Finally however in the last week we are experiencing an influx of Blackfin Tuna, Sailfish and Wahoo. Dolphin remain in the area and we are catching them particularly on days featuring easterly breezes. Ballyhoo are congregating along the reef edge and it won’t be long before various pelagic gamefish chasing these baits into the shallow water becomes a daily occurance. One of our favorite types of Key West fishing involves sight casting to these fish as they chase Ballyhoo along the surface. It’s still a little early for Kingfish although we are catching a few along the reef edge. Yellowtail Snapper are biting well along the reef when we have off color water and west current. At this point the more cool weather we have the better the fishing will get.
During the month of June you can expect the Dolphin fishing action to continue unabated. Larger fish tend to become harder to find as the area fills with tremendous numbers of âschooliesâ. Debris as well as weed lines will be holding fish. A subtle reading of whatever birds you find will also give indications as to what size fish they are following. The surest clue is whether the birds are moving east or west. Schoolies are almost always moving to the east while a small group of large fish are almost always moving west- often at a very good clip. Donât be surprised if you stop on some small fish and have a larger fish crash the party. Dolphin are curious, cannibalistic and opportunistic, big fish are often drawn to the feeding frenzy of small fish. Have a designated rod ready to cast to take advantage of this scenario, 20lb spin with a short piece of 60lb-80lb leader is ideal.
With a good deal of calm weather June is also an ideal month to try a deep drop for daylight Swordfish. Depths from 1400â to 2000â outside the wall are where these fish are caught, right on the bottom. This fishing requires an outfit specifically rigged for dropping. The folks up at Cudjoe Sales can help you get set up if you are interested.
The reef fishing in June can be excellent, as long as the water is not too clear and there is current moving the chum. With a full moon during the middle of the month, Mutton Snapper will again form spawning aggregates. Yellowtail Snapper will continue to spawn this month, also look for Mangrove Snapper to begin their spawn which peaks with the July moon.
Lastly a reminder to boaters that June marks the official start of Hurricane season and or the rainy season. With a lot more moisture in the environment, itâs a good idea to check the local radar before heading out least you get caught in a squall.
Good luck and tight lines,