If you were to ask me what’s the best time of the year to come down to the Florida Keys to go fishing I would surely respond; “May!” The fishing season peaks in May around the Florida Keys and that’s in all depths and environments.
Inshore the tarpon are gathered in the largest numbers patiently waiting for the Palolo worm hatch. This small worm like creature hatches out of the coral rocks mainly on the south side of the Florida Keys. The largest concentration of it happens right off of Key West, from Fort Zachary Taylor to Boca Chica Key in about 15 to 25 ft. of water. There are many shallow coral heads where these worms hatch, typically around the full moon in May. This hatch creates a feeding frenzy for tarpon, which gives anglers a lot of opportunities to hook up! Fly fishing is the best way to accurately replicate the worm size, but you can also use Gulp baits on jigs with spinning gear. After the worm hatch, the tarpon will slowly begin to migrate further north.
If going deep is more your thing, in May you have the largest push of mahi throughout the Florida Keys.
It doesn’t matter where you launch from, if you get out to the blue water, anywhere from 150ft. deep or more, you can find them. Look out for floating weed lines, they work as an attractant to bait fish. I suggest trolling skirted ballyhoo with some 80lb wire in case a wahoo pops up.
My favorite color of ballyhoo skirts for mahi are pink and blue and orange and green. They always work great for me. Birds can also help you locate these schools of mahi. Once you hook up there is a high likelihood that the whole school will surround your boat. When this happens, I like using light spinning gear with a small jig tipped with squid to catch them.
Please harvest them responsibly, nothing is worst than seeing whole mahi mahi in garbage cans because someone got tired of cleaning them and gave up. Yes, this actually happens. One of the most common areas to find mahi is the Islamorada humps, these undersea elevations make it ideal for bait fish to gather, and therefore the predators are never far behind. Also, is not a bad idea to monitor the VHF radio to hear what the local charter fleet is up to and at what depth they are fishing.
Grouper Season and Mutton Spawn
May is also the beginning of grouper season and the mutton snapper spawn; the muttons will spawn around the full moon. This is a keys wide event; you can find info on where to find these reefs and wrecks by going online. There are many sites that will give you the info you need like, floridagofishing.com. This is a great site with gps info and it’s zoned in different areas depending on where in the Florida Keys you would like to fish. Grouper are bottom dwellers, so you will have to go deep to reach them. The depth and current will dictate how much weight you need to fish properly. I keep a
Grouper are bottom dwellers, so you will have to go deep to reach them. The depth and current will dictate how much weight you need to fish properly. I keep a well-stocked tackle box with weights of all sizes in order to be ready in any condition.
A large fluorocarbon leader is a must to catch the big ones. Some of these areas get a lot of fishing pressure so anything you can do to hide the hardware will help you. Live bait is always a must! I’m also a big fan of braided line when bottom fishing, you can actually tell when the bait is getting nervous right before the strike. My brand of choice is spiderwire. Also, when you are fishing over the wreck or reef be on the lookout for some permit. Permit spawn over the certain reefs and wrecks in the spring time. This concentration of permit makes for an angler’s dream! A small blue crab is the bait of choice; I suggest you tip the jig with them.
Best bet keys!
With so many different choices I don’t know where to begin! The opening month of grouper season cannot be ignored. Get out there and get your fish before someone else gets them before you! Work a spot for an hour and if you have not gotten any positive results, move and keep working! The largest reefs and wrecks are the ones that are most commonly known, therefore they are the ones with the most pressure. I’m always watching my fish finder, looking for smaller less commonly known spots that can produce incredible catches. I always make a point to try new spots.
Taking the plunge!
You guessed it; it’s all about the grouper in May! Don’t forget the Florida Keys are in Monroe County which means black and gag grouper have to be 24 inches in total length. Expect a lot of pressure from local and out of town fisherman. So dive safe! Groupers can be found in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Atlantic Ocean. So whichever body of water has better visibility, that’s where I would go. While you are down there, please help us fight the lion fish infestation that we are currently dealing with. Lion fish are edible and can be harvested year round, but please handle them with extreme care.