Light Tackle Fishing in the Upper Keys
Ahhh, the month of May! May stands for summertime and mahi mahi down here in the Florida Keys. As the water keeps getting warmer (somewhere in the 80° range) the mahi mahi migrate through the Keys and it’s one of my favorite times of the year.
These fish are so beautiful with their bright vibrant colors of green and blue on their sides and yellow and white on their bellies. They light up when you are catching them and their acrobatic jumps out of the water can be quite a show. Not only that, they are a great fish to eat with their mild taste and firm, but flaky texture. We like to throw them on the grill or bake them in the oven with a creamy marinade…..so good!
To catch mahi we have to usually go offshore, anywhere from 10-30 miles out in search of the Gulf Stream - the current that flows from south to north and passes us right here in the Keys. You can tell you are in the Gulf Stream when there is a change in waves or when you are being pulled to the north. Sometimes you can tell it’s the Gulf Stream by the deep blue color of the water. Ninety percent of the time that’s where you are going to find the mahi.
Once we know we’re in the Gulf Stream, we look for birds because they will be hovering over the fish as the mahi chase around all kinds of bait fish. The bait fish swim and jump out of the water as they are being chased which makes them easy prey for the birds - and that’s what tells us where the mahi are.
Now that we’ve found them, we will troll some baits behind the boat and have a pitch bait ready in order to catch them. After that, so that we can catch them more quickly, we cast out our spinning rods. It’s more fun because you can cast right to the fish and it’s more action than using a heavy conventional reel.
It’s very important to pay attention to which way the birds are moving. The ones moving northeast are most likely schoolie-sized fish (3-8 lbs.) because they aren’t strong enough to fight the current. The southwest bound birds typically are on bigger fish. Next it’s important to position ourselves correctly so that we don’t spook the school of fish. This will also give us a a good indication of what tackle we want to use.
An important tip, look for sargassum weed. The mahi mahis are almost always around it because this is where their food hangs out - all sorts of little shrimp and bait fish. It all goes hand in hand….the Gulf Stream, the birds, the weed and the mahi mahi.
So if you want to go offshore fishing and you love to catch mahi mahi then now is the time to come to the Keys and book your charters. May is a great month because you also get a push of bigger fish in the 20 lb.+ range.
A couple of other May highlights:
May 1st is open grouper season and it should be a great bite to start! The yellowtail snapper love the warmer water as well so the reef will be alive and kicking!
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