Living the Patch Life
By Capt. Beau Woods
Putting a snapper dinner in the box this time of year is as close as your local patch reef. Everyone is at home fishing south of the reef, but truth be told, this time of the year there is more action north of the reef in Hawk Channel. Finding a good patch reef is simple if you spend a few minutes breezing over a paper chart or your plotter. I find a new patch almost every time I go. Relief is key, if you see a spot that has 5 feet of relief or more, try it. I prefer patches with a sharp rise in relief as it transitions from the sand to rock. A huge tip I got from a local captain was to visually look for them on days the water is dirty. The more the relief, the darker the spot will be.
“So what’s so new about fishing patches? I’ve tried that and all we caught were juvenile yellowtails.” I’ve heard this a lot, but just bare with me a minute. As our water temps fall, everything from full grown mutton snapper to cobia move into the shallower waters following the bait and warmer water.
First thing is anchoring the boat just so your stern is on incline to the patch. A reef anchor is preferred, but if you can find sand up current of your spot, a Danforth will do the trick. I keep a small 100 foot piece of anchor rode in the boat, so I can throw it off on a buoy if a big fish takes a long run. The primary rig to use for yellow tailing will be your best bet for a trip to the patches. I normally use a 40-55 class spinning reel loaded with 20-30 pound braid.
Even though I still put a couple blocks of chum out, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. My only thought on chum is to bring in the ballyhoo, which in turn will bring in the targeted species that will want to eat the ballys. Break out a bonito and slice up a handful of chunks to toss down current. Then slip out a chunk (about the size of your finger or smaller) on a light jig head or knocker rig. I promise it won’t last long before a snapper of some sort wolfs it down.
I tend to stay away from unweighted hooks unless I see big yellowtail in the slick. I always start with cut bait of some sort, but fresh bonito is at the top of the list, with fresh ballyhoo coming in second.
When using ballys, a pair of scissors comes in handy to clip chunks off. Try to make sure the chunk looks as natural as possible on the hook. Remember, the fish you are targeting will be behind the boat under the ballyhoo school, so try and keep your bait 20 feet or so behind the boat (mainly to the sides of where the chum slick is going). You will lose a few rigs, it’s the price of doing business, but I have found a way to slow the losses. After you have been on the spot long enough to get the ballyhoo chummed up, let out enough anchor rode to get your stern on the down current. Drop off and give everything a few minutes to settle down and you will find you are losing far fewer rigs to the rocks.
Now that you have shifted over top of the patch, keep throwing a few bonito or bally chunks down current. This is the best part. More than likely, muttons will start to prowl around with all the chumming and chunking going on. They will eat chunks, but a live bait like small pinfish, pilchards or ballyhoo is the best way to hook up constantly.
With all the fun, you may have a black grouper ruin your day by chewing up your snapper. Just remember they are closed until May 1st. Be ready for oversized cobia that show up wanting to chew on the chum bag. They are the reason for the buoy on the anchor because normally you have a fairly light rod in your hand and a 40+ pound cobia won’t have a lot of respect for your yellowtail rig - but it can be done.
If you have been on a patch for 45 minutes and are not having constant action, move to a new one. I try to start close and work my way south, but mostly I’m looking for ballyhoo in the immediate area before I’ll commit to a patch.
Weather can be your biggest obstacle this time of year. An easterly 15knot wind might keep you from running offshore but if it has any north in it at all you can always get a couple miles out and make a great day living the patch life.
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