Out of town customers are always asking my mate Run and I about the best month to return to Key West. We assume that they mean for fishing, and our stock answer has always been April for sailfish and May for big dolphin. I also usually throw in just as an aside that, if fishing wasn’t the major motivator, September is a great time to be here, assuming that we don’t get that dreaded hurricane alert/evacuation notice, a very rare but very annoying occurrence. Other than for the latter, the weather is usually beautiful and the town is relatively empty and quiet, so you can go wherever you want whenever you want and not deal with massive crowds. Also, prices tend to be cheaper for everything from rooms to meals and the local businesses are so happy to see you that they will treat you like royalty.
This September, even if fishing was the prime motivating factor, it was another great month to be here. Weed lines and debris seemed to be everywhere on an almost daily basis and that meant that the dolphins and wahoos were too – at least if you had the time and money to invest in a 6 to 8 hour trip. Those catches were pretty well confined to the deeper waters, however, even on the half-day trips the reef once again proved to be a great alternate plan. Snappers, jacks, barracudas and an occasional grouper or mackerel kept those inshore anglers busy.
A classic example of the great offshore bite was our trip of September 19. We had a real great crew of guys – Jevon Hester, a gentle giant of about 6’8” who is a former Atlanta Falcon and current real estate investor who owns two hotels in the Orlando area; Mike Guiffre, the president of Guiffre Distributing, a large Budweiser beer distributor operating in northern Virginia since 1934 and Joel Brewer, a bar owner friend of theirs. Really cool guys and a bundle of laughs.
They booked a whole day, agreed to curtail the partying the night before (which, after having several post-trip drinks with them I now realize must have been a great sacrifice), and showed up a little before 7:00 AM that morning allowing us to beat everyone else out of the marina as I prefer to do.
We cruised out to about 700 feet of water. There, we saw what appeared to be a current rip with a few sparse patches of Sargasso lying along the south edge. What I refer to as a current rip is sometimes also referred to as a slick. It looks like someone poured a line of oil on the water. Such a slick can sometimes look like a roadway down the middle of the ocean, going essentially east and west in our area. This one was not spectacular but good enough to cause me to turn east and try it for a while. After all, a lot of dolphin had been found around weeds in that general depth the day before so it was definitely worth a shot.
Good decision. After about a quarter mile the weed suddenly got thicker and more organized. Before we knew it we had three nice “schoolie” dolphin on at the same time. The best part is that because we left early we were the only boat in the area so we had the line to ourselves. So, after getting a few more decent dolphin off that same area of grass we continued down the line to the east. Suddenly, we got simultaneous hits on both the downrigger and the right long outrigger, both of which turned out to be wahoos in the ten pound range. We got lucky and boated them both even though the outrigger line was mono and not wire.
Although I hadn’t noticed any particular floating object in the area at the time of those hits, I retraced our track and, sure enough, there was a 2’ X 2’ plastic crate buried in a weed patch which produced two more wahoos, one in that same size range and one smaller one that we released. For the uninitiated, floating objects such as crates, buckets, pallets, etc., can hold several wahoos in the water underneath and around them, especially this time of year.
As we continued further down the line, the dolphin hits kept coming in rapid succession. Then we passed another “floater”, what appeared to be a large clear plastic liquid container with long pieces of rope wrapped around it and that led us to three more wahoos . We kept two and threw the smallest one back.
At about the four hour mark of the trip we had already caught about twenty dolphins , keeping about a dozen of the bigger ones and seven wahoos, five of which were kept. Although we technically had three anglers on board, one of them, who will remain nameless to protect the guilty party, slept almost the entire trip due to a bad case of “Keys Disease.” So, two guys had essentially caught all those fish and they quite simply just had enough. As a result, the decision was made to call it a day and go in early. If you’re a charter captain, nothing makes you feel better than your customers telling you that you’ve exceeded their expectations and that you will be able to start your cocktail hour(s) a little earlier than anticipated. That also allowed Jevon and his buddies to start their really serious drinking earlier. I joined them for a few rounds but then left them relatively early. My mate, who wasn’t as wise (wimpy?) as I was, remained throughout and said that it was quite a memorable evening. Again, names and details are being omitted to protect the guilty.
In contrast, the trip we had the next day, while very successful, was the perfect counterpoint. Our customers were two couples who just wanted action, food and a four hour trip so the reef seemed like the perfect place to go. It was. We spent the entire time slow-trolling the edge of the reef outside the sanctuaries off Eastern Dry Rocks and Rock Key at depths between fifteen and thirty feet. About twenty yellowtail snappers, one nice mutton snapper, one decent gray snapper, two jacks, two cero mackerels and five barracudas later, we had some really happy customers.
The best thing is that both groups got just what they wanted: got to eat their fill of great fresh fish that very evening; thought that my mate, Run, was the greatest thing since sliced bread and thought that I didn’t do too bad of a job either. That’s a pretty darn good couple of days from my perspective.
Those two days were just a microcosm of our September on the “High Class Hooker.” We didn’t run as many trips as we did in previous months, which is normal for that time of year, but the ones we did were highly productive.
I guess the lesson to be learned from all this is that you just don’t really know from year to year what a month will bring fishing-wise in Key West. I’ve heard multiple captains say that this September was by far the best September they’d seen in recent memory and one of the best periods of good sustained offshore fishing in the last few years irrespective of the month.
Who knows? Next year September might be a great fishing month again or early October, November or December, all quiet times here people-wise when the rates in town are low. So maybe the bottom line point of this story is to just plan your trip to Key West when it bests suits your personal schedule, desires and budget irrespective of fish predictions or past fishing experiences. Offer up prayers and sacrifice to the fish gods and cast your fishing fate to the winds. You might very well have the best day fishing you ever had. I hope it’s with us but, if not, I’m confident that you’ll find that just about all the highly professional charter captains we have here will do a great job for you.
Captain Gene Chrzanowski