I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to put one of the windiest winters in my rearview mirror. As a forty year resident fisherman of the Florida Keys, I can honestly say, this last January and February have had to be the toughest I can remember. While the fishing was outstanding, the conditions were challenging, to say the least.
Moving on, March Madness is in the air, and the best of March and April fishing are ahead of us. I love this time of year for the variety of available species to target. There are still an abundance of our winter fish in the area--from sailfish and cobia, to kingfish and more. Then, we get the influx of our spring and summer species.
Tarpon will start showing up in good numbers around the area bridges around mid-March and will progressively improve all the way into June. In late March and early April, try to fish the warmest water possible (last part of incoming tide, first part of outgoing--that kind of thing); tarpon tend to have lockjaw when the water is below 76-78 degrees.
On the reefs, both deep and shallow patch reefs have been good all winter for a variety of species. This will continue and get better with the arrival of warmer water. Expect a large variety of great-eating, strong fighting fish--from multiple snapper species, including mutton snapper, yellowtail, and mangrove snapper, to a variety of grouper (which are still out of season until May and must be released unharmed, but are still great fun to catch on light tackle).
Permit can be found on the area flats and bridges in early March as they make their way to the shallow wrecks off Marathon and Key Colony Beach by late March and all through April. Permit are a much sought after and prized game fish. Live crabs or large shrimp are a must to entice a bite from these wary bruisers, but the effort is worth it. As with the tarpon, water temp plays a big role in their aggression towards bait, and leader selection is critical. Don’t expect to catch these fish on 50 pound leader. You’ll have to get light to get the bite; 20 pound leader is a good starting point.
On the wrecks, expect an influx of the usual suspects: amberjacks, big mutton snapper, occasionally a nice African Pompano, as well as sailfish, wahoo, and kingfish. Like I mentioned in the beginning of the article, it’s the best of both worlds--winter and spring/summer fishing combined.
Offshore, dolphin (the fish, not Flipper) should be showing up sporadically in March, with more frequency in mid to late April. Blackfin tuna are moving through our nearshore deep water just off the outside edge of the reef, as well as on the Marathon humps. If you’re going to run to the humps, make a day of it. It’s about 24 miles from the west end of Marathon and the ride is a great way to scout for dolphin. If all else fails, you can make some drops for Queen Snapper and other deep water species.
March Madness and April fishing--the best of spring is on its way. Feel free to stop by the docks, talk to the captains or mates, and let us put together a fishing adventure tailor made just for you!
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