April has arrived and with it, comes the most complete line up of sought-after species!
All of the usual suspects will be here, from the sailfish in the deep blue to the silver king in the skinny water and everything in between. Spring warmth is in the air, and many species are gathering in large numbers for their annual mating rituals. Some of it happens here in the keys, like the permit spawn on our reefs and wrecks. Some species will migrate through the keys on their way to spawn, like the sailfish on their way to Mexico. This mass gathering of fish species creates a unique environment and makes the Florida Keys a world-class angling destination where your dreams can come true!
Some species will migrate through the keys on their way to spawn, like the sailfish on their way to Mexico. This mass gathering of fish species creates a unique environment and makes the Florida Keys a world-class angling destination where your dreams can come true!
In the blue water, expect the sailfish bite to be the hottest all year! Wolf packs (school of sailfish) will be pushing through on their way south. These gatherings create an extremely competitive feeding frenzy in which sails drop their guard and aggressively charge at everything that swims.
The weather patterns and ocean currents in April are known to produce a great color change in the water (area where two currents meet) and that is where the sailfish like to hunt. This color change can gather weeds and debris, which attract bait and of course, the bait attracts predators. Also, keep an eye out for tailing sails, yes you read that right, sails swimming on the ocean surface with their tails breaking the water. This color change is also a hot spot for all of the pelagic fish in the area, expect blackfin tunas, kings, wahoo and schools of cobia. You can also expect to see large hammer head sharks.
Like always, live bait is the best choice and make sure you have plenty of it. Ballyhoo are my favorite, their spear-like bodies make them excellent for slow trolling; by doing this I can stay right on the color change regardless of the wind and sea conditions. This color change can vary in depth from day to day. I like to look for the areas where the color change is in around 150 feet of water. The sailfish migration is Keys-wide; you can get a great bite from Key Largo to Hawks Cay and all the way to Key West.
Capt. Brice Barr from the Double Down Charters out of Key West FL. specializes in kite fishing for sailfish. This is a great way to target them but is does take a bit of know how. He prefers an east wind and always keep a spinning outfit ready to cast as he drifts. The bite will vary from day to day depending on which Key you are on. By talking to the local captains and looking for the flying sailfish flags you can make a more accurate plan for the next day.
There are a lot of great charter fishing boats throughout the Keys, some of my favorite ones are Rodeo Charters out of Key Largo, Catch 22 Charters out of Bud and Mary’s in Islamorada, Double Down Charters out of Garrison Bight, Outer limits Charters from the Key West Historic Bight and Capt Jamie Connell from Flying Fish Charters out of Garrison Bight Marina. These guys know how to get after them!
Inshore the permit are stacked up on the rock piles and wrecks. Approach these areas slowly, to not spook them. A light spinning outfit in the 15lbs class will do the job. A small jig tipped with a small blue crab is the bait of choice. You can find these rock piles all throughout Hawks Channel, which runs parallel to the Florida Keys archipelago on the Atlantic side. These rock piles are on any chart or GPS chart plotter.
The tarpon migration has been underway since March, but by the time April arrives you can expect every channel from the Marquesas Keys to Islamorada to be infested with these incredible fish. Tarpon like deep channels where the current runs swiftly. They tend to flow into the channels at low tide and feed on passing crabs and small baitfish. As the tide rises, they push back into the channels. The tarpon fishery is one of the most important in the keys and it’s also a renewable resource if handled correctly. In April, my favorite channels to fish for tarpon are the North West Channel to the west of Key West, Shark Key Channel east of Big Coppitt Key and Bahia Honda Channel just North of Big Pine Key.
You can catch tarpon all through the day, but the peak hours are sun up and sundown. Tarpon can live over 60 years and can weigh more than 200 lbs. They are a formidable opponent that will test your skill, strength, and tackle. When fishing in the clear waters of the Florida Keys, making your rig invisible is paramount; fluorocarbon is a must!
Best bet Keys!
Get out there and work the color change! Live bait is best, but if you don’t have it, you can troll with dead ballyhoo or lures, stay on it and get ready. In April everything is up for grabs, so whatever you have on your bucket list, get out there and get it!
Taking the plunge!
Lobster season is over, grouper season is closed till the end of the month and hogfish limit is up to 16 inches and only one per person. What’s left? Grey or mangrove snappers, mutton snappers, and for all of you extreme spearos, there are plenty of pelagic fish out there.