We don’t have a real winter here in the Florida Keys, but we do have cold fronts. The wind rotates clockwise and when there’s a north, and the wind direction changes for a few days, well, that’s our cold front. This year, the cold fronts were few and far between and the water temperature barely got below 75 degrees.
The Keys and the Straits of Florida are a special place being that we are in the travel patterns of several migratory offshore pelagic fish species. The fish are coming out of the Gulf of Mexico traveling up the Eastern seaboard, and vice versa, and have to swim right through our backyard, going one way or the other.
The two main characters of our target fish species would undoubtedly be the sailfish and the mahi mahi. There have been several sightings of giant bluefin tunas swimming in the shallows, making their way south. It is difficult to miss a fish the size of a Volkswagon swimming over white sand in 30 feet of water. Also, several yellowfin tunas have been hooked and caught between Miami and Key West, as well as a few white marlin. There is, no doubt, a huge variety of fish swimming through the Florida Straits--and you don’t have to run 50-100 miles to get to them, like in some places.
My former mate and dear friend, Colby Mason and Captain Ray, on the Reel McCoy, hooked a huge yellowfin tuna and fought him for 6-plus hours, until the fish finally wore through the leader. What a heart breaker! The problem is with the water clarity here. We have to use light (super light) tackle to get the bites, unlike from North Carolina up to Canada, where they catch a lot of bluefin. They are using huge 80-130 lb. conventional reels with 200-400 lb. leader. So, if they hook one right, they have a much better chance of landing the fish, versus here, where we’re using 30-40 lb. leader--chances are very slim of you ever getting a gaff shot on the fish.
With all these different fish right out the back door, it’s sometimes difficult to come up with a game plan each day. You can have plans of catching a bunch of snappers or filling the box with mahis, but anyone who’s fished long enough knows that plans can get thrown out very quickly when you get out there and the conditions are just not good for what you had in mind. I try and be prepared for most everything, and really don’t know where the day will take us until we get out there.
My strategy includes:
1. Seeing what the water looks like (clear blue vs. dirty green);
2. Seeing which way the current, if any, is moving;
3. Seeing what baits we can gather for the livewells;
4. Communicating with other skippers up and down the line to see what’s biting and what conditions are.
And, last but not least,
5. Having an idea of what the customers have in mind and what they want to catch.
Have fun and we’ll see you out there!
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