Running North to the Gulf Wrecks
Making time to explore Gulf wrecks is kind of hard to do running out of Cudjoe Key. For me, it’s simply because of the time it takes to go north towards the wrecks and there’s so much to do on the south side. The last couple excursions I was able to make up that way were because the water temperatures fell into the 60’s on the patch reefs to the south which literally shut down the fishery all along the reef. It didn’t take much to convince a couple different charter clients to go north instead.
Our main target, cobia was the only thing we couldn’t find. We hit a half dozen wrecks and found very good fishing for gag and red grouper (who all got quick pictures before being released since they are out of season). Live large pilchards and whole dead ballyhoo where the ticket for the grouper as well as the oversized mangrove snapper. There were also a few lane snapper that resembled muttons they were so big. Most of the time I would simply drift the wrecks while the anglers dropped baits, but we did anchor on a few spots that seemed to hold more fish than others.
Rigging is pretty straight forward. Spinners capable of holding 30 lb. braid a 2 oz. egg sinker, a swivel and about four feet of 40 lb. fluorocarbon and finished off with a light wire circle hook. I prefer when anchored to use a jig instead of the previous rig, but to each his own. One of my anglers fished a bucktail jig quite a bit in hopes of a cobia however the jacks, Spanish mackerel, and blue runners wouldn’t leave it alone. I hate it when you have that kind of problem.
On one of the larger wrecks we had huge marks above the wreck on the sounder and I had an idea what it was. I talked the bucktail jig operator into catching me a 5 lb. jack. I rigged up a 30 class conventional with a large sinker and some 250 lb. leader and handed the rig to the biggest guy on the boat with the jack pinned on the big circle hook. My only instructions were to drop the bait slow and don’t let go of my rod. Somewhere around 30 seconds in, the jack headed south. It stopped violently. The big guy (Scott), pushed the lever drag past the button to full. Away goes the drag as the Goliath pulled like a fieght train. Scott made a valiant effort but in the end this was a case of deer hunting with a bb gun. We will take bigger tackle next go ‘round. It always amazes me how quick and easily 250 lb. mono breaks when it touches the wrong thing underwater.
As much fun as I had just fishing something new, I noted a couple very cool things that don’t happen in the Atlantic often. The first was how little competition we ran into. On two consecutive days fishing mostly published wrecks (the location of most are in this magazine) we saw a total of three other boats. Two commercial lobster boats working and a large Searay running what looked like from Ft Myers to Key West. As I look back on it now, it was really nice to not have to worry about other boats crowding us, my anglers even noticed that it seemed like we had the entire Gulf to ourselves.
The second cool thing was actually finding something new to fish in the middle of nowhere between wrecks. A trick I learned from an old friend who commercial fished in the Gulf for a long time was to keep an eye out for turtles. They may not live in a wreck, but they do relate to them and will hang around the structure and life associated with it. I was looking to see if they had cobia with them. I found two different pieces of hard bottom because of the turtles the second day as we ran between wrecks. We did a quick drop on both and found one to be a place that will need to be fished when the grouper season opens. We dropped four times and caught a keeper-sized gag on each drop on this “new to me” bottom.
At the end of the day, we were somewhat forced to head north but I’m glad we did. We caught limits of snapper both days when I don’t think we would have done much of anything on the south side - and hey, we had it all to ourselves.
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