Holy Frijoles! Can you believe that it is already time to dust off the trolling gear and press offshore in search of the tasty denizens found outside of the drop-off?
This time of year, one of the most popular targets for visitors and locals alike are the dolphin, or dorado or mahi mahi, depending on from where you hail.
Traveling offshore will, most days, put you in contact with schools of fast swimming fish, followed closely by both terns and frigate birds. Of course, you must not only keep your eyes on the sky, but also scan the water for any floating debris. Dolphin love to hang around flotsam where baitfish have congregated.
Many offshore fishermen make the mistake of racing way offshore in search of dolphin. It is wise to start your search right as you cross the reef. I like to put out artificial lures that can be trolled at higher speed, rather than natural rigged baits, and then head offshore. I have caught some of the largest dolphin in the Keys in around the 300-foot mark. So, when I say do not overlook this area, take it to the bank that there are trophy fish to be found there on occasion.
Once you have located an area that has a concentration of fish, you can switch to rigged bait and slow down and thoroughly cover the area. The biggest difference that I have discovered between fishing artificial and natural bait is that, once a fish is on the line and you slow down to fight it, the artificial baits just become unappetizing pieces of plastic, whereas your natural baits are still appetizing bait. When trolling artificial bait, it is helpful to keep your speed up for an extra ten to twenty seconds after you hook a fish, to increase your chance at getting a double, or better, in the line.
There are days that you just can’t miss, and then there are those where the fish are just not showing. I have found that those are the days that it pays big dividends to have a downrigger. Some days the fish are just being lazy. For example, around the full moon where fish feed all night and are stuffed literally to the gills. Trolling a bait at the depth that they are hanging out may make one fish in the school just say, “Sure I could eat”. Once that one fish is hooked, more likely than not, the rest of the school will follow it to the surface where they will run into the rest of your baits.
I am also a proponent of always having live bait handy to cast when fish are seen on the surface. Even if you do not see the fish, just casting a bait under swooping birds often results in a fish. It also pays to cast on every piece of flotsam that holds bait. Feed your line out as you drift away from the structure, and watch for your line to speed off.
There are days that are so slow that you may want to change things up a little. Even if it has been great sometimes, you want some variety. Well, we are finally in open season for the most popular deep-dropping target species. Both snowy grouper and tilefish are back on the menu. Whether you want to fish manually or with electric reels, it is a simple process to put a chicken rig down with several baits for a variety of tasty fish. By the way, in my humble opinion, all of the bottom fish found past the 500-foot mark are the tastiest that we have available in the cooked category, Blackfin tuna being my favorite in the raw or seared column.
The days that the breeze is up a bit are the ones when it is most helpful to have an electric assist reel. The more current that you have going against the wind, the more important to fish with heavier weight. On days with light breeze, going with the current, it is easy to get away with a pound or so of lead. But, throw in a three-knot current going against fifteen knots of wind, and eight pounds may not get you down. A small waterproof flashing led light will also help draw fish to your baits. Remember that there is little to no visible light reaching the bottom from the surface at the depths greater than five to six hundred feet.
Give me a moderately calm day offshore and, even with my Fishing ADD in full swing, there is still barely enough time in the day to get it all in.
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