Winter time fishing is here, and with it, you can find some of the hottest offshore fishing!
Large schools of ballyhoo are gathered on the edge of the reef and with it, the pelagic predators are moving in to take advantage of the congregated bait schools. Tuna, sailfish, wahoo and kingfish are among the species we target and they available with the proper techniques.
These same predators can also be found on the offshore wrecks up and down the Florida Keys archipelago.
You can target the big pelagics in many ways; trolling lures, trolling cedar plugs and dead ballyhoo, vertical jigging or drifting or trolling live bait which is my favorite method. Live baiting takes a bit more know-how but on average you will be more successful.
Pilchards are more versatile than any other live bait because of their size, two to four inches, which makes them an easy snack for most predators. Pilchards also work well both near the surface and on the bottom.
Pilchards are more commonly caught in the shallows surrounding the many islands in the Florida Keys.
You will have to throw a cast net in order to catch them. Pilchards also work extremely well when dropping them to the bottom, some of the species that would usually be more wary about eating a live pinfish on the bottom will drop their guard and inhale a live pilchard.
But if you are looking for a larger fish like wahoo or sailfish, I suggest you use a bit larger bait like ballyhoo, thread fin herring, speedos and small jacks.
Big bait, big fish!
By using larger bait you can exclude some of the smaller species simply because the bait is too large for them to consume. Larger baits allow you to be more selective in the species you target.
One of my favorite techniques is to drift over the wrecks with live speedos or blue runners while using a stinger rig.
A stinger rig consists of a barrel swivel, 5ft piece of 100lb wire attached to a treble hook which is then attached wtoa short 8inch piece of wire to another treble hook. This rig enables you to hook these larger baits with two hooks, therefore, increasing your chances of a hook up when a wahoo explodes on the bait.
I normally drift only two lines to avoid tangling the live baits. I attached a balloon to the main line right above the barrel swivel, this controls the depth of the bait so that my two baits do not become entangled and work at different depths in the water column.
This technique has proven very successful particularly for wahoo and kingfish.
If you wish to drift more lines I suggest a kite, that way you can keep these large and energetic baits further away from each other.
Kites can greatly increase your chances, Capt Brice Barr of the Double down is an expert in kite fishing and he tells me that practice makes perfect. Kite fishing can be challenging but by practicing and putting split shot weights on the kite lines you can control the angle and height of the kite, therefore, making for a better presentation.
When using treble hooks I suggest a light drag, treble hooks can sometimes pull out when applying too much pressure. Wahoo will not rock you up like grouper or snapper so by setting a light drag you will increase your chances of landing them. Wahoo is one of the fastest fish in the ocean and are notorious for running away from the boat on their initial run only to come back towards the boat making the angler think that the fish came off. When this happens you must reel as fast as possible in order to keep the line taught.
Wahoo is one of my favorite eating fish and is considered a trophy amongst the guides and locals.
Some of the favorite spots are the west end of the bar to the south west of Key West and the Islamorada hump, amongst other.
BEST BET KEYS
Get out to the blue water and work wrecks and color changes. If you do not know where to find live bait, you can buy some rigged ballyhoos and troll this area. Deep diving lures also work very well for wahoo.
While you are over these areas I suggest you do some vertical jigging, there is no telling what you may hook up. You may just get lucky with a nice grouper or mutton snapper. Be on the lookout for birds that continue to circle an area. This can be a sure sign of predators pushing bait to the surface.
Please be aware that new mutton snapper regulations are coming at the beginning of the year. The size will now be 18 inches and only 5 per person.
TAKING THE PLUNGE
The end of grouper season is quickly approaching. You have less than a month!
Getting in the water and spearing one is often one of the best ways to target Grouper.
Grouper are bottom dwellers that can be found on the reefs, wrecks and rock bottom all around the Florida Keys.
Groupers are known for rocking you up when hooked on conventional fishing gear, so getting in and chasing after them can be very successful.
In the Florida Keys, black grouper and gag grouper need to be 24 inches, it does not matter whether you are on the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.
Don’t forget your lobster gear, grouper and lobster can be found side by side in or around the reefs, wrecks and many ledges in the Florida Keys.