Yes, Yes & Yes!
There isn’t much in the way of Keys fishing that is not available in June. Just start listing fish that you would like to catch and the answer will pretty much go like this, yes, yes, yes, yes…..
While this year the dolphin season had several false starts due to cooler than normal water temperatures from late season fronts, now that it’s June it should be humming along at full speed. June is when we expect to see the largest fish of the year. Most of the fish that I have caught over the fifty pound mark were caught in June.
To target these Super Slammers there are no fast rules. It is important is to be ready when the opportunity shows itself. Keep a heavy spinner loaded with a large live bait ready to throw when one shows itself. I prefer spinners over casting rods as they are easier to cast fast and long drop backs are instantaneous by opening the bail. I like to have a palm-sized pinfish hooked through the shoulder in the bait well ready to throw at a moment’s notice. A large spooled reel like a pen 750 SS V or larger, on a 7 foot jigging rod will hold enough fifty pound braid to stop even the largest dolphin. Onto your braid, splice on a piece of fifty pound fluorocarbon leader and a hook matched to your bait size. A 9174 Mustad is a great choice in 4/0 or slightly larger. For some reason, this is not the ideal place for a circle hook. My hookup ratio for dolphin with circle hook’s is abysmal.
Most of the big fish that I have caught have appeared during a fight with another smaller fish. So second on my list is to keep a lookout all around the boat while fighting smaller fish in case a biggun shows itself. My largest fish, a sixty-six pounder, ate a schoolie that was left on the line as a Judas while fighting other fish. It took the schoolie just out of my range of vision and peeled off fifty yards of line before letting go of the bait. We would start to retrieve the hapless schoolie and it would be hit again. When the fish was in sight it was all that I could do to get a bait to it. I ended up throwing a dead ballyhoo on a wire pin rig out overhand on a 30 lb trolling rig and miracle of miracles, it accepted the offering and the rest is history. I am reminded of that day whenever I walk into the living room and look at the wall.
Do not overlook the tried and true trolling dead ballyhoo method on a wire pin rig. This method has accounted for more large fish than any other. It allows you to cover a great deal of ground while checking out weed lines, looking for working birds and spotting for flotsam that might hold fish.
If you find a piece of flotsam, do not leisurely pass by. A good floater should be thoroughly checked out. After making a pass with your trolled bait, check to see if the spot is holding baitfish. If it is, make several more passes with your downrigger. On each pass drop the bait down another fifty feet. If you do not find a big dolphin, you will at least have a good shot at a wahoo. Only after thoroughly working the spot should you move off.
If a good looking weed line is being heavily fished by other boats you may want to work farther off of the line. Frequently large fish will hold off to the sides to keep an eye on the potential forage. Think of the analogy of a wolf stalking the caribou from the distance looking for the weak and injured to separate from the heard.
While big fish can be found surprisingly close to the reef, the majority of Lower Keys fish are caught near what is known as the Ups and Downs. This area is about 12 to 18 miles offshore and is in about 550 to 650 feet of water. While the Lower Keys lack large “Humps” that concentrate upwelling, the Ups and Downs have numerous smaller structures averaging about 50 feet of relief creating miles of small upwelling events due to the bottom currents being deflected upward to the surface. This upwelling concentrates baitfish and therefore the forage fish as well.
If you find yourself far offshore on a day that the fish will not cooperate, I recommend you try sending an offering all of the way to the bottom to see if you can find something of a consolation prize in the way of a tilefish, barrelfish, yellowedge grouper, and if the Federal powers that be see fit this year to keep the season open, maybe even a snowy grouper.
It is simpler than you may think. Drop with any reel loaded with enough 50 lb spectra fiber line to reach the bottom. I like the Penn 1050 SSV, it has a large line capacity and a fast retrieve ratio.. For starters, just rig sixty pound mono or flouro leader material, put an 11 o/t Mustad circle hook on a surgeons end loop. You can and should make several droppers about a foot and a half to two feet apart. Under this rig place about a pound and a half of egg sinkers. (Three 8 oz, four 6 oz etc). Set your bottom machine to bottom lock and cruise around in about 650 feet of water. Good bottom will appear fuzzy and spike up from 6 to 30 feet straight off of the bottom. Just drop straight down and maneuver the boat to stay above the line. If they are down there, you will soon see the telltale taps. Squid is a great all around bait for this, however you can use just about any cut bait. Reeling up a fish from these depths is not much more work than fighting a good-sized dolphin at the surface. What is a lot of work, is if you have to retrieve your line without the motivation of bringing up a tasty bottom fish.
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