Variety is the name of the game for late fall fishing

It was an exciting week at last with the cooler temperatures turning on the bite both offshore and in the backcountry.

Varity is the main problem for most venturing out. With all the great action it is almost hard to target one species without getting distracted by another. From the drag screaming action offshore to the Chinese fire drill that is mackerel fishing in Florida Bay, there is lots of rod bending action for every angler this time of year.

If you have not heard the word, the sailfish are back in town capturing the attention of most headed offshore. Reports of bait showers in the shallower areas of the reef at 30 to 50 feet are becoming more common every day and are hard to miss. Live ballyhoo is the bait to have when chasing sails. A 30- to 50-pound fluorocarbon leader to a 3/0 to 5/0 circle hook is a common rig.

The dolphin bite has been hit or miss with most fish caught while targeting other species like tuna or sailfish. Kingfish have made a strong showing around the wrecks and ledges in 90 to 200 feet. Fish averaging 10 to 15 pounds have been common, with larger ones caught every day. Along with the kings there have been lots of blackfin tuna caught around the Islamorada hump with butterfly jigs and live baits on flat lines. Getting an early start will give you the advantage when looking for some tuna dinner.

Captain Mike Macdonald from the Upper Keys Fishing Club was out this past week off Key Largo and encountered a spectacle that few ever do. While trolling in 450 feet of water about 12 miles offshore, he came across a school of an estimated 100 maybe even a thousand yellowfin tuna crashing and devouring small blackfin tunas for as far as the eye could see. After several passes Capt. Mike had several hits but no solid hook ups. Nevertheless, it was one of those things you see that makes offshore fishing so exciting.

For those of you with smaller vessels, the patch reefs have been on fire and are a great option for those windier days. A couple of blocks of chum, a baitwell full of live shrimp, some GPS numbers and you are in business. Even if you do not have GPS numbers, most days finding patches can be easy. Just look for the white donuts with a black spot in the middle.

There have been plenty of mangrove, lane, yellowtail and smaller mutton snappers caught in addition to mackerel, hogfish, porgies and groupers. Knocker rigs are a great way to fish these patches Ā— 20- to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader to a 1/0-3/0 circle hook depending on the size of the bait you have. This gives you just enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom.

Outback the outer banks of Everglades National Park are alive with action in the form of mackerel, seatrout, jacks, sharks, redfish, mangrove, snapper, ladyfish, pompano, tripletail, sheephead and more. Every day Spanish mackerel can be seen skyrocketing bait in the bay and can be caught in big numbers providing lots of light tackle action. Shrimp, pilchards, and pinfish are all great live baits to have, but artificial lures like spoons, jigs and hard lipped lures work almost as well if not better. Anchoring on some uneven bottom or structure with a good chum slick and the fish should come to you.

My favorite set up is for the wind and current to both be going in the same direction. This helps spread the chum slick faster covering more area. Birds have been a great indicator as to productive areas, along with bait schools and the obvious skyrocketing mackerel.

No matter where you choose to fish, there are lots of choices. As always, for the best trips I suggest hiring a guide to help show you the way. Just head down to your local bait shop or marina and ask for a guide recommendation then just sit back and enjoy some of the best fishing around.

Those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish often!

Capt. Mike Makowski is a backcountry fishing guide and owner of Blackfoot Charters in Key Largo. His column appears biweekly. To send him fishing reports or photos, e-mail or call (305) 481-0111.

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