Follow Rule #1
Know when to put the number one rule into effect. So what’s the number one rule? For me it’s knowing that when something isn’t working “stop doing that”. I’ve lost count of the fisherman that tell me how they didn’t catch anything trolling or fishing the reef all day. Well what else did you try?
Late summer can be challenging in the lower Keys offshore. Inconsistent current can shut down fishing that was red hot the day before. If I put a couple hours into hunting mahi and not much is going on I’m outa there. How long can you stand on the transom with a chum bag hanging over the side looking for the snapper to show up? You’ve got to have a time limit. Not every day fishing means a day of catching, but it won’t be because I didn’t try everything in the bag.
A couple tricks I’ve found to bend a rod on those hot summer days that the current is dead on the reef and the offshore bite isn’t happening is to run to the closest wreck and scale down on gear. Instead of dropping a big 7.5 ounce vertical jig, tie on a little 2 ounce job and work it up a few cranks off the bottom. Drop it right back to be snapped back up again. More often than not, something will bend the rod.
I’ve experimented with chicken rigs built out of 30 pound mono little 4/0 circle hooks spaced out about a foot apart. Pin a little piece of bonito or squid to it and drop it on the deeper wrecks. On the zero current days when it seems like all the fish have left the county I’ve limited out right quick on yellow eye snapper and vermilion snapper using this method. It seems the first couple bites take a while, but once you crank up a couple it seems like they get fired up and will move up in the water column. You will then be able to mark them on your bottom machine and drop right into them.
If you have small live baits in the live well like little pinfish or pilchards, put one on the bottom hook of your rig and you might get a surprise mutton snapper. I’ve even caught a cobia in about 400 feet on the bottom hook that had a little live grunt on it. Be prepared to get hung up. It happens quite a bit, but you’ll find out pretty quick where and when to drop on the wreck.
Now as grand as I think a chicken rig can be, it’s not going to get you an angler of the year award, but it will put some good groceries in your fish box. Rule #1, if it ain’t working then stop doing it and change what you’re doing.
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