It is hard to make a poor choice this time of the year. It seems that whichever way you decide to venture, it will be fruitful with just the minimum of preparation and execution. For the Fishing ADD afflicted angler, the jump from one venue to the next can be seamless.
Fishing inshore, reef, and offshore in a day is an easy proposition. If either you or a guest have the desire to chalk up a tarpon, you need only get an early start on the day. You will be hard pressed to find a channel or bridge leading out of the Lower Keys that does not have an active population of tarpon cruising for a meal. If you can get settled by dawn, you will have about an hour of prime time to target a silver king. Having a supply of pinfish, crabs, or mullet on hand from the day before will save precious time, allowing for either more naptime or fishing time, whichever you desire. Floating a bait behind the boat a dozen yards or so should get you the attention that you desire. Once you either release a fish, or the sun has been up for about an hour, it is time to move on to the next stop on the Fishing ADD train.
Fishing the reef this time of year is a sure-fire way to put some mangrove snapper in the boat. The fish are on the reef edge now and the spawning activities that they are engaging in definitely give them an appetite. There are plenty of shallow patch reefs that are holding schools of amorous fish, but the majority will be found along the drop-off in between 40 to 80 feet of water. Here, pinfish again are a go-to bait. One sure-fire way to test the waters, if you will, is to start a chum line. If there are not any mangroves visible behind the boat within about twenty minutes, it is best to move on to another reef until you attract the attention of a school. I have found that the larger fish will linger behind and under the smaller and more aggressive fish. A medium live pinfish or a large pinfish cut into steaks will draw out the larger fish. If this summer is anything like the winter and spring of this year, the catch should be outstanding--at least in regard to the size of the larger fish. While chumming the reef, you just may encounter a school of ballyhoo in your chum line. Whether you prefer hair hooks or a cast net, you should obtain as many of these as possible. It is practically impossible to find a better bait than fresh ballyhoo plugs on the reef for just about everything that swims.
Bringing fresh or live ballyhoo offshore is a sure-fire way to interest all fish you encounter. Pitching a live ballyhoo is sure to get attacked by a hungry dolphin. If your ballyhoo do not survive your livewell, they are still the go-to bait for rigging and trolling for dolphin. If you have been a busy beaver in the morning, the rest of the fleet will have had a chance to venture out and, hopefully, have already found the depths where the dolphin are holding. By using your VHF radio to listen in, or to inquire of other anglers, you can narrow down the depths that you should start looking for fish. Also, whether the fish are on structure such as weedlines, or are moving fast under birds, can also often be determined just by listening to the radio.
Most anglers will have had a great day on the water by now. If you are truly afflicted by Fishing ADD there is one more stop for you while you are already offshore. If you are in the area of the ups and downs, there is a great opportunity to drop a bait to the bottom and try for the tastiest of all Keys’ prizes--the great variety of fish that are caught by deep-dropping. Snowy grouper, tilefish, barrelfish and rosefish are all rich and buttery goodness with fins. If the currents are not outrageous, it only takes a couple of pounds of weight and a couple of circle hooks on a chicken rig to present an assortment of baits including squid, mackerel and cut bonito. If you can top the rig with a flasher or deep-drop light, all the better. Drifting along one of the many depth breaks or rock piles in the area will surely deliver a reward. If you do not have access to an electric reel, do not worry. I have been successfully deploying a spinning reel loaded with fifty-pound braid for years with great success. Take it from me. It is no big deal reeling even the biggest snowy grouper up from the depths. The hard part is reeling an empty line up from the depths. The adrenaline assist when there is a fish on the line is not to be dismissed.
If you have not properly treated your Fishing ADD after a day like this, then all I can suggest is that you get wet on the way in and grab a few lobster to round off the meal that I refer to as…surf and surf!
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