The Florida Reef, also known as the Great Florida Reef, is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S. We are so blessed to have this in our backyard. Lying a few miles offshore from Fowley Rocks North, to South of the Marquesas, our reef is home to over 1400 species of marine plants and animals, with over 500 species of fish.
Our day fishing usually starts in the shallow parts of the reef, gathering bait. We do so by anchoring and putting out a block of chum. Within ten minutes or so, there is always an assortment of bait close behind the boat. We catch larger fish on blue runners, ballyhoo, and speedos, while smaller fish are usually caught on pilchards, sardines and cigar minnows.
After putting an assortment of baits in our livewells, it’s on to finding some fish for the box. Springtime in the Upper Keys presents all sorts of opportunities--from sailfish to tunas, mackerels to snappers, and all of the above. Springtime means opportunity.
One of my favorite things to do happens under just the right conditions. When the current and wind are going the same direction, and the water is a little on the dirtier green side, we anchor the boat in the 70’-80’ outer edge of the reef and do a combination of snapper fishing, as well as putting some live baits out of the riggers, or a kite to target sails or mackerels. Using a lot of chum and cut bait, the yellowtail fishing should also be good. And, with all the chum going out behind the boat, bait fish will gather, attracting kings, ceros, cobias and sailfish. Slipping down a deep rod should get some mutton snapper bites, too.
On days when the water is clear, or the current and the wind are in opposite directions, I like to set up a live bait drift anywhere from 90’-200’ with live ballyhoos or cigar minnows in the outriggers, or pilchards, minnows or sardines from the kite. Frisky live baits are irresistible in the Springtime to blackfins, sailfish or mahi coming down the reef.
The reef is alive here in the Upper Keys in the springtime, and there are plenty of options. Stay safe and we hope to see you out there!
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