Having a Backup Plan
Having a backup plan is always a good thing. In February there are primary points of attack in either your inshore or offshore fishing plans. These well laid plans are often disrupted by February weather, whose winter winds can be a might bit unpredictable. It is not uncommon to have the wind blowing over twenty miles per hour for weeks on end. In spite of the alternative that the Key West bars would have you believe is the proper course of action, drinking and buying tshirts is not all that there is to do. There is plenty of fun inshore action to be had by either the flats boat crowd or the guys fishing in the big Center Console.
The back waters of the Lower Keys have miles of protected water that is positively teeming with game fish. Whether I am in my flats boat or on the 30 foot FUNYET, if it is too rough to go offshore comfortably or hard to see for successful sight fishing there is always jigging the muds for trout.
Muds can be found in many of the Lower Keys basins. These basins are generally in bays surrounded by grass flats and are five to seven feet deep. Most of the more productive spots are over a grass bottom. The muds will appear as patches of white colored water and can be as small as a half acre up to hundreds of acres in a large one. They are created by schools of feeding mullet. This feeding activity draws in all kinds of gamefish who want to get in on the action. Some fish come to feed on the mullet themselves and others to take advantage of the bait fish that are displaced by the schools of mullet.
There are more than just spotted sea trout to be found in the muds. You will find ladyfish, jack crevalle, black tip and bonnet head sharks, mangrove and mutton snappers, cero and Spanish mackerel, just to name a few of the usual suspects.
Jigging these muds by drifting through them and twitching an artificial jig is a sure fire way of hooking into a great time. There are literally hundreds of jig combinations that will work to coax a strike from these fish.
Both bucktail and molded soft plastic will get action. I have a preference for the Berkley Gulp shrimp. These artificially scented lures will draw a strike from just about anything that eats shrimp. They are relatively tough and will last fish after fish. It seems that if there is any tail left on the hook, that fish will still eat it. They are preferred to live shrimp because they will stay on the hook bite after bite. A live shrimp wouldn’t make it back to the boat intact after the first few pecks from the barrage of bait fish found in the muds. You must be sure that you do not use too heavy of a jig head or your lure will spend too much time being drug through the grass.
A few feet of 20 lb. monofilament or fluorocarbon leader separating your jig from your braided line is useful to draw strikes if the fish are at all wary. If you lose more than a few jigs to bite-offs you are probably into a bunch of mackerel. You can albright a few inches of wire to your jig and that will protect from bite-offs. The new spinning reels such as the Penn Spinfisher V with an infinite anti-reverse are ideal for this kind of constant jigging. The infinite anti-reverse eliminates the constant hammering that the old sprocket type anti-reverse received from the jigging motion.
I like a light, set the hook type of motion on each and every twitch of the rod. When the action is heavy, which is most of the time, it is hard to differentiate the strike of a bait stealer form a gamefish. It pays to be constantly striking like there is a fish that you want on the bait. It is especially rewarding to introduce children to this type of fishing as it is a method that they can easily master and the thrill of fighting a fish like the acrobatic lady fish is priceless. Make sure to have a landing net available for those keeper-sized trout as they have very soft mouths and will often tear off of the hook if lifted into the boat unceremoniously.
If dad gets bored with the snapper, trout, lady fish and mackerel it is an easy task to rig a ladyfish to a piece of steel leader and drag up a black tip shark or big barracuda. Add an angler who suffers greatly with a case of Fishing ADD and I can tell you that the variety and action is enough to keep even the most afflicted angler happy.
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