Dances with Muttons

by Capt. Jorge Piñero

Dances with Muttons

On the bright full moon of spring, the amazing spawn of the muttons bewilders even the most seasoned fishermen. Your sonar looks like you have run aground on a coral head from the depths, yet you are still moving through the silent Bahamian night or early light; the cloud of spawning muttons so thick that it almost looks like a solid object. This is the Bimini Spring Spawn.

Locations of spawning muttons are a tightly held secret by the few that really know the consistent areas, seldom around other boats. You see the glimmer of lights in the distance of the mainstay of the boats, if any at all, while you enjoy a few areas that are just bordering outside of SPECTACULAR.

This particular outing, was several nights anchored for the night, awaiting the “Mutton Dance”. Waiting for the ideal conditions, less than 2 miles away, we started laying the chum line for the ravenous and mega yellowtails this particular section of reef holds, as the sun started to depart the day. The bite was voracious. It was exciting and the fish coming over the gunwalls were every bit of 5 to 6 pounds, with the occasional behemoth.

Other fish in the action were big horse-eye jacks of amberjack proportions. They get big here. They were big enough to break my Ugly Stick Custom Heavy with 80 lb. braid. The rod broke, and the braid held true, as the big horse-eye came on board one evening. A place I call Hatteras Drop was where I witnessed the size of these jacks, as a 70’ Hatteras from Bermuda was fishing this spot on the reef and, after only catching huge jacks, they moved. Not only did they catch big jacks, but they were about 150’ from the best yellowtail spot I had ever fished on several trips.

After a nice boatload of yellowtail, and the sun hidden well behind the Western sky, I pulled anchor and searched long and far to see of any neighboring boats. We made several slow passes, idling over the perimeter of the area, trajected the drift, and shut off the engines and drifted into spot. Quietly, we sat there, what seemed an eternity, chum spewing from both bags. The sounder, little by little, began to thicken and, when almost solid, we dropped a chunk of bait on a span of 40# fluorocarbon and breakaway sinker. Almost immediately, a big mutton slammed the bait. After a short rod-bending battle, up came the silhouette of a grand mutton against the moonlit night; and another, and another, until we had several nice muttons on ice that put us at the weight limit of fin fish from the Bahamas with only 5 fish. The bite could sustain an entire night fishing and hundreds of pounds of muttons, yet, the reason they are there in these huge numbers is the limited catches in this barren area no one considers to fish.

The next day, we fished the same area during the day, in the exact manner described above, without the effect of the moon. The bite was dismal in comparison. The big muttons were reluctant to bite and the catch was numerous smaller fish. We did get a few good fish that day after 3 hours of fishing vs. 1 hour the evening before.

Muttons like sandy areas outside of patchy rocks or reefs. I look for these patchy areas, surrounded by sand, if possible. During the spawn here, in these areas I fish, there are hardly any sandy areas. Instead, there are areas traversed with rocky ledges with islands of coral heads; not the typical scenario I generally fish in the Keys.

The typical well-known mutton fisheries around Bimini tend to be more of the traditional topography and structure and, although they produce good numbers of nice muttons, they are ocean parking lots of boats--not my thing. My success always comes from getting away from the crowds and popular areas.

The rigs I use are medium lever drag reels like an Avet 6 size, loaded with 80# braid, or a Canyon Salt 7500 on a heavy spin rod, loaded with 80 pound braid likewise. I connect the braid with a 3-way swivel. On the two eyelets of the swivel, I attach an 8-10’ fluorocarbon 40 lb. leader, on a size 7 Super Mutu circle hook. For the other eyelet, I use a 20# 24” length of line tied to a bank sinker. If I start catching large grouper, I go up to a 60 pound fluorocarbon leader and 30# line to sinker. The reason for the lighter sinker line, is to act as a breakaway line in case your sinker snags up on a rocky crevice. If a fish snags up on a rock or ledge, I patiently wait it out by placing the rod in a rod holder, without any tension, in open spool, with a copper wire holding the line to the rod. When the fish comes out of its hole, it will trip the copper wire and strip line from the reel. Here, I tighten the drag down 100%, flip the bail by hand, and crack the fish up to the surface. I have fairly good success doing this, unless the fish chafes the line badly and results in a break-off at full drag. Generally, a fish that is hooked in a rock and comes out peeling line is well hooked, so now, pulling it off the bottom is what needs to be done swiftly.

Do I break fish off doing this? Yes! But it’s at least a 50-60% chance you will be able to hang on to the fish. If you pull hard on the line, you chafe the line and you generally get a break-off most of the time.  Patience is golden here; it can result in a dance with a good fish, or the one who got away!

While fishing for muttons, you can catch some big black and gag grouper. They inhabit the same areas, but are mostly found in the areas with rock ledges and big coral heads. I prefer the rocky bottom, with holes in the rocks that harbor big fish. If you fish the sandy areas, the muttons will be there, whereas, if you fish the rocks, the grouper will generally find home here.

I witnessed this by diving on these reefs and seeing where the fish generally inhabit. The outer patches and deeper reefs tend to hold the larger muttons, whereas the grouper are found on patches or in the deep. The key is rocks with holes, where they call home.

Bimini is a mecca for bottom fishing big fish--whether it be muttons to grouper, or offshore, for marlin to tuna! Springtime in the Bahamas will surely amaze you. Take a charter from the Keys with us in April and May and you, too, will be “Dancing with Muttons”!




Capt. Jorge Piñero
Capt. Jorge Piñero

Author

Capt. Jorge Piñero has fished worldwide in search of his specialty game fish--the Marlin! He has caught and released over 400 marlin personally, and has had the honor of receiving 4 World Marlin Slams on Fly Gear. He calls Islamorada home and charter fishes the Bahamian offshore waters and Islamorada in search of big game fish. He can be reached at 305-304-7573 or online at UpperKeysSportfishing.com.



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