The dog days of summer have arrived and with it, some great fishing in the Florida Keys. Whether you are a novice angler or a serious tournament fisherman, there is something for everyone this time of the year. From Grey Snapper fishing on the reef to the Bacardi Oakhart Marlin Tournament, there are tasty fish to target and some serious fishing to be done. No matter what you are fishing for, make sure you stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun because it will wear you down.
Offshore is Good
Usually, Mahi Mahi or Dolphin are on the menu when you head offshore. Anywhere past the reef line can be a great place to find them, but you have to know what you’re looking for. Typically, you can start trolling in a few hundred feet of water and continue your way south toward deeper water until you find an area to work over. Everyone knows looking for floating debris and weed lines can lead to some great Dolphin fishing, but also look for Frigate birds and rips in the current offshore. It’s not just about Mahi either; make sure you are ready for that Billfish or Wahoo bite, they will be out deep this time of year. Big Wahoo and Blue Marlin love to eat chicken Dolphin. If you’re trolling, it’s usually a good idea to have a big lure ready in case you get a billfish in the spread.
Hot Snapper Bite
Right now big Grey Snappers are heading out to the reef to spawn. You can get them anytime during the summers, but around the full moons, you will get the best bite. Look in 80-100 feet of water, when you start marking a school anchor up current from them and throw a block of chum out. Dropping live pinfish to the bottom is the most effective, but if you don’t have live bait, the Snappers will eat dead bait, like squid or ballyhoo as well. Don’t forget about the Yellowtail Snapper, make sure you have a jig drifting back with some bait on it. This is a great thing to do if you are looking for some tasty fish or if you have young anglers looking for some action. Consider going extra early or a bit later on in the day to avoid the intense afternoon heat. Often this time of year, the wind can lay down and when you are anchored on the reef mid-day, that heat can be stifling.
Bonefish and Permit
In the backcountry, more Bonefish and Permit show up on the flats as the tarpon start to head out of town. Late summer and fall is a great time to target Bonefish on the flats, they love that shallow warm water. These guys love to eat some shrimp on buck tail jigs. Don’t be afraid to jump out of the skiff and wade after them if it gets too skinny. After spending most of the spring and early summer spawning offshore, the Permit also start to make their way back on the flats. They too like to eat shrimp on buck tail jigs, but tossing a little crab at them is the most effective way to target Permit. The Tarpon, however, start to move on as you see less fish this time of year. Even though the main migration is over for the tarpon, those that stick around are usually cooperative when it comes to eating. The light winds and variety of species make this a great time of the year to cast flies in the shallows.
If you are in Key West and looking for a unique adventure with off the charts action, head even further west to camp out at the Dry Tortugas. With the winds settling down, the 140 mile run round trip is well worth it. On your way out on the Gulf side, keep a look out for Shrimp boats to fish behind. There you can find a variety of fish, including Blackfin Tuna. North of the Dry Tortugas you can fish all kinds of wrecks and coral heads, and when running south you can fish the reef or head offshore. With the weather window open, now is the time to check out the pristine waters in this remote setting around the Dry Tortugas National Park.
Diving in the Keys right now is very popular as well, due to the aforementioned warm waters and light winds. You can have great visibility on the reef and wrecks, which can lead to some close encounters with sea life. Above all, this month everyone has lobster on the mind. People from all over Florida come down for the Mini Lobster season, which always falls on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. Diving for the lobsters in the Keys is great fun and can lead to a wonderful dinner. However, with the popularity of mini lobster season comes a lot of safety risks. There will be a lot of people on the water, many of whom do not have a lot of boating experience or familiarity with the waters in the Keys. Be sure to use extreme caution when participating and use care when diving to not destroy the reef by breaking and kicking coral in the mitts of a lobster snag.