February may be the shortest month in the calendar but it has a lot to offer anglers in the Upper Keys. Already our winter has been a warm one with many days in December and January reaching into the 80’s. However we can still expect the parade of cold fronts to descend down upon us bringing cooler temperatures for a few days before the temperatures begin to climb again. As with most things on the water, the weather can be the deciding factor when it comes to different styles and types of fishing that are available. Luckily there are a lot of options in February.
When fishing with bait this month my live well is always full of live shrimp and crabs of assorted sizes. Wintertime is when we experience our shrimp runs here in the Florida Keys, usually triggered by a drop in temperatures and strong winds from the North. Just about everything eats shrimp; it has to be the best bait for the most species you can get. And nowhere is this more prevalent then on the patch reefs off Key Largo.
Patch reef fishing is just a lot of fun, and a great option for half-day trips. Patch reefs typically appear to be black or dark spots on the bottom surrounded by a sand circle, they vary in size from a couple of feet across to an entire city block. The most important thing about fishing these spots is proper anchoring and boat position. The ideal set up is to have your boat up current of the patch and just within casting range. It sounds easy, but some days the current and wind can be at odds making proper positioning a nightmare. It is not uncommon to re-anchor several times until proper positioning is achieved. Never anchor directly on the patch, not only will the fishing be poor but your anchor will damage the live coral that makes up the patch and is illegal.
If you plan to go out and fish the patches always bring an up to date copy of the fishing regulations, like the one found inside every issue of Fishmonster Magazine. Once in a while you will catch a species of fish that will have you scratching your head. For me it was a unicorn filefish caught last year.
Every year I try to accomplish new things in respect to fishing. Last year I set out to catch a bonefish and a sailfish in the same day while on one of my flats boats. First, I went online to noaa.gov in order obtain an (HMS) highly migratory species permit. If you plan on fishing for sailfish, swordfish, sharks, Atlantic tunas, and any other billfish you are legally required to have an HMS permit. It only costs $20 and is good for a year.
When the day came with the right conditions, I grabbed a fishing buddy and headed out to the flats to find a big school of bonefish mudding in the shallows. After an hour we had caught three bonefish on pink ¼ ounce backbone jigs and it was time for phase two.
We raced offshore to a patch reef that I knew was holding ballyhoo. Once there, we dropped in a bag of chum and within minutes the back of the boat was covered in ballyhoo. After netting up a few dozen and getting the boat really dirty, we moved past the reef line and began power drifting the ballyhoo. My buddy Don hooked up first, and after a 20-minute fight, landed the second half of our slam; a nice sailfish that posed for pictures before being released.
If you are anything like me, then chances are that your friends and family members believe that you have a serious problem. But don’t worry, there is hope! The Upper Keys Fishing Club is a support group of like-minded individuals that suffer from the same addiction to fishing and fishing related activities as you do. Meetings are held the first Wednesday of every month in the Key Largo Library at 7:30p.m. promptly, see you there!
For those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish often!
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