January is All About the Fronts
It is time to break out the cold weather gear Upper Keys anglers because you won’t catch them if you stay at home. January can be one of our coldest months, due to the varying intensity of the cold fronts we experience all month long. Typically when a front passes, temperatures drop, and we experience a few days of cold strong northerly winds. Once the winds calm back down, the temperatures begin to increase until the next front arrives. During this period it is common to get a few days of flat calm conditions allowing easy access to any fishing destination imaginable. As always there are plenty of options for anglers but the two that really stick out are the hot mackerel bite in Florida Bay and the great backcountry action found in the channels and creeks of Everglades National Park.
During the windy days when sight fishing, fly fishing, and push poling are nearly impossible I spend a good amount of time fishing the channels, creeks, outflows, and secret nooks of ENP. Most trips are spent slinging bait (mostly live shrimp) into the muddy waters with 1/4” - 3/8” ounce jigs or 2/0-4/0 Owner mutu light circle hooks with just enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom. Species like redfish, black drum, seatrout, snook, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, and the dreaded saltwater catfish are common catches. On the colder days the bite can be very sluggish in the early morning hours so I instruct my clients to slow everything down. This is where circle hooks really work well. All you do is wait for the bite then lift your rod to see if there is anything there. Last year I had a client catch a 30lb. black drum and he never even felt the bite. He just lifted his rod, thought he had snagged the bottom - until the bottom began to move away from the boat.
One thing I would like to mention, I typically advise my clients to never reach into the water for a fish when it is murky. I have seen and experienced several incidents with sharks taking fish at the boat side and narrowly missing someone’s hand. The best thing is to have a landing net ready; it is better to lose a net than a hand.
On the calmer days, my clients enjoy fishing for drag busting mackerel on and around the outer banks of Florida Bay. While it doesn’t happen all the time, it is not unheard of to have clients catch close to a hundred mackerel during the course of a full day trip. I guarantee that if you take a charter out to catch mackerel in the Bay that you will also catch several other species. Mangrove snapper, jacks, seatrout, bluefish, sharks and even a few cobia can be caught while targeting the macks. Tripletail can be found hanging around crab trap buoy floats while you run from spot to spot.
While there are several different ways to successfully catch mackerel like a pro it is really not that complicated. I like to chum my fish in. My favorite conditions are when the wind and current are both moving in the same direction. This helps spread my chum slick quicker over a larger area. Some days we anchor and other days we drift. Live bait like pilchards or cigar minnows can’t be beat, but live shrimp and artificial lures will work almost as well when bait is hard to find. When fishing for mackerel I prefer not to use wire, instead I fish long shank hooks matched to the size of the bait. Mostly Mustad long shank beak nickel REF#92611 with 30-60lb Seaguar fluorocarbon leaders. Depending on the current, baits can either be free lined down current or placed on bobbers and drifted back into the chum slick. The long shank hooks with fluorocarbon leaders get more strikes than wire leader. If you are looking to throw artificial lures; spoons, lipped diving plugs and top water lures all work very well for mackerel. When throwing lures I prefer to use light wire as losing lures can get expensive.
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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