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,
I hope readers of this column were able to participate in the very good Sailfishing which occurred last month during the âTailingâ and âcolor changeâ condition. It was the subject of Aprilâs column, and though it didnât last long, for about 10 days the Sails poured through.
Now that we are into the Month of May itâs time to get serious about Dolphin first and foremost, but also spawning Mutton Snapper, Yellowtail Snapper and the re opening of Grouper season. As I write this, the Dolphin bite is just beginning. There are a fair number of small fish around, most of them associated with birds, but very few of the large âslammerâ fish we expect as the migration begins. Historically the biggest Dolphin of the season will be found in mid May. Watch the weather and try to fish on days with light SE breezes, particularly if they occur after several days of fresh Easterlies. Most readers are experienced Dolphin fishermen (and women) so I hardly need to mention the basics: find the current, find the weed, find birds and keep an eye out for debris.
Grouper season has reopened after a 4 month hiatus. Size and bag limits for Atlantic waters are very specific so be sure you know them. Only 3 Grouper per person, only 1 of which can be EITHER a Gag or Black. Reds have to be a minimum of 20 inches while Gagâs and Blackâs must measure 24 inches. As good a bait as any for Grouper are common pinfish- easy to catch and easy to keep.
We have a full moon during the middle of the month. The May moon is the peak period for the Mutton spawn. Sooner or later there will be a closed season during the spawn, and or a reduction in the bag limit which is currently 10. Until then please harvest responsibly- 4 guys could go and legally keep 40 Muttons in one evening, but I think most would agree thatâs way too many. Until the laws changes itâs up to us to do the right thing.
Tight lines and good luck.
A week or so ago we were anchored in 125â of water just outside the reef edge. We had caught 3 Cobia on live baits fished right on the bottom to go along with a few Kingfish and Mutton Snapper. Â We decided to leave the spot after the action slowed down and as we began to pull the anchor, here came 4 more cobia tailing down sea right on our bow. The sight of tailing Cobia is a firm reminder that April has arrived and with it the type of spring âsightâ fishing which so many of us find exciting.
Variously referred to as a âtailingâ condition or fishing the âcolor changeâ, experienced locals anticipate this development this time of year. The basic elements which create this situation are, wind out of the East or southeast combined with strong East current pushing into the wind. The color change created between green inshore water and blue offshore water provides a vivid visual indicator of where to fish. Often it is the blended water, the so called âpowderâ blue edge where the most action occurs. This is primarily a live bait fishery for best results. Live Ballyhoo, Threadfin Herring, Large Pilchards and Goggle eyes are the baits of choice.
In the morning while the sun is still low I typically try to find the most distinct section of the color change and kite fish, keeping my kite baits working either side of the change. Once the sun is high and over head or slightly behind me as the boat faces the east, I like to look around by driving at 8-10 knots towards the east along the color change. On the right days, a steady stream of Sailfish, Dolphin, Tuna and Cobia will be swimming down sea right at you. In addition to these common species, every spring much more exotic fish are seen and baited such as giant Bluefin Tuna, Swordfish, Mako Sharks, and Blue Marlin. In the cockpit we keep a selection of spinning rods ready to spear on a live bait and cast. Good luck with the Bluefin Tuna on spinning gear! If the fish arenât tailing much on a given day then we go back to soaking baits along the change, knowing that sooner or later we will get a bite from a fish for which the color change acts like a fence line. Indeed the beauty of a color change is that it simplifies your decision on where and how deep to fish, donât be in doubt- fish the change.
Good luck and tight lines.
The first week of March finds us between seasons with very little good fishing to report. Our winter action which consisted of Sailfish, Tuna, King Mackerel, and Cero is about over, but spring action has not yet begun. Water quality along the reef edge and beyond has frequently been poor this winter. As an example of what Iâm talking about, consider what I found on a recent trip just offshore of the reef edge. The water was a dull dark green. There was a lot of scattered weed, not the kind that holds fish, but rather the stuff that makes it hard to keep your lines clear. When we anchored down we found that what little current there was, trickling up under the boat, into the wind. Thatâs a tough condition; no life on the surface, hard to make a Snapper drift, and too weedy to troll. On that particular day we did manage to bend the rod on âsnakeâ King Mackerel, Little Tunny and a few large Blue Runners. The several snapper we hooked were all eaten by sharks before we could get them to the boat.
On days when we have the time and decent weather, weâve had success making longer runs to areas less heavily fished. With south wind, weâve run up into the gulf and had some good kingfish action with fish averaging 20 lbs. Weâve also hit various rock piles in the gulf for a mix of Lane, Yellowtail, and Grey Snapper as well as throw back Grouper. A good thing to remember is that just as the Southside patches can provide calmer water on a north wind, so too can the gulf areas provide calmer conditions on the south wind.
The reef edge west of âthe end of the barâ has yielded some decent catches providing there is current to move the chum. Big Yellowtail, Mutton Snapper, and legal size but out of season Grouper are all available. Amberjacks are congregating on the wrecks in advance of their spring spawn. Offshore remains spotty, you might find a few Dolphin and the occasional Wahoo or you might not.
Good Luck and tight lines,
Finally the wind has slacked off at least for the last week or so which is about all you can expect this time of year. I hope everyone has had a chance to take advantage of the calmer weather and get out on the water.
A pretty good Wahoo bite headlines the recent fishing action. We saw a peak during the Jan full moon but the action on Wahoo remains steady through the dark of the moon and now with the waxing Feb moon. Best areas to encounter Wahoo have been âthe end of the barâ, the vicinity of the local wrecks and anywhere between 120â and 250â where the water is blue and the current is moving. Trolling wire rigged ballyhoo and lipped plugs or live baiting âspeedosâ Goggle Eyes, Thread Herring and large Pilchards has produced fish.
King Mackerel have also belatedly moved into our area in pretty good numbers in the last 10 days. The run of Kings is very late this year but welcome for those of us in the Charter Fishing industry as they produce great action for our clients. The Kings can be found on both the Gulf side and the south side of our Keys. Try trolling to locate the fish and then anchoring and chumming to hold the fish.
Snapper fishing has been unreliable of late owing to very clear water conditions and fickle current. Clear water and no current is a prescription for poor snapper fishing on the reef edge, either anchor out in the deep where the clear water doesnât matter as much, or find the current by moving east or west along the reef edge.
Sailfish action is so so, there are a few Sails lurking around the shallow fore reefs where Ballyhoo are still congregated, keep an eye out for Bait showers which will alert you to their presence. Tight Lines and good luck,
Capt. Brad Simonds
One of the windiest winters in recent memory continues unabated. With the briefest exceptions, temperatures remain warmer than average for this time of year as well. As a result, King Mackerel which are a mainstay of our fishery this time of year are all but absent. Sailfish numbers are also down. Both of these species will remain in greater numbers north of our area until and unless cooler temperatures drive them into our area. With the wind being such a big factor, there has been little consistency in what type of fishing we do. Strong North winds have generally found us hunkered down on the reef edge behind the shallowest patch reefs which knock the seas down. Strong South winds often mean a weather cancelation as the seas build from the open ocean. We have had some good Snapper fishing on the moderating South wind, caught a few Sailfish live baiting on the East wind, and had some good Dolphin and Wahoo fishing on the occasional calm day between blows. There have been several very large Dolphin caught recently, in spite of it being off season, including a 59 pounder that was chasing bait along the bar in 90 feet of water.
Large numbers of Ballyhoo remain on the Hawks Channel patch reefs and also in many areas along the fore reef. Areas with high concentrations of Ballyhoo are prime locations to fish particularly if you âmatch the hatchâ by using both live and fresh dead Ballyhoo. Expect Cero, Jacks, Mutton, Mangrove and Yellowtail Snapper as well as out of season Black, Gag and Red Grouper to be associated with these schools of Ballyhoo.
Blackfin Tuna are also available to those with access to quantities of live Pilchards. Drifting or anchoring the deep water wrecks and heavy chumming with the Pilchards particularly late in the day has produced good results. Tight lines and good luck,
Capt. Brad Simonds
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