Fishing the Upper Keys lately has been a mixed bag … – Florida Keys Keynoter

It is the week before Christmas, and the fish are biting up and down the Keys from Snake Bight to Alligator Light. Mixed conditions have lead to calm conditions one day and windy the next. This has left the bite an ever-changing thing.

With very warm temperatures this week, the action has been inconsistent with some days stellar and others slow. Either way you look at it there is something for everyone on the water, either in the backcountry or offshore.

Offshore there is plenty to keep any angler busy — from kingfish, mackerel and sailfish on the reef edge and wrecks to the tuna and wahoo found around the humps and current rips in the deep.

With ballyhoo readily available around most patch reefs and mooring balls, catching live bait for fishing has been easy for most headed offshore. When fishing for sailfish, most choose to power drift between 120 and 80 feet just off the reef with live baits like ballyhoo, Spanish sardines or large pilchards. This has produced sails and other species like big cero mackerel, bonito, dolphin, tuna and kingfish.

Early mornings and late afternoons seem to be the time when most of the action takes place offshore. Another way to hunt for sailfish is to target the bait showers in the shallow water just inside the reef around 20 and 40 feet. All week long there have been sailfish chasing schools of baitfish all over the Upper Keys, and they are hard to miss.

Birds are a great indicator that there is fish in the area. Once the sails chase the bait to the surface, pitch a live bait into the area and a hook up usually ensues.

Recently, Capt. Lee Lavery of the Upper Keys Fishing Club headed out to the Key Largo Hump searching for tuna with great results. Trolling small 2- to 3-inch black/purple and black/blue feathers way back behind the boat produces several 10-pound and bigger blackfin tunas, bonito and skipjack tuna over a few hour period.

With the end of the year approaching fast, most anglers fishing the reef are thinking about grouper, trying to catch a few before they go out of season on Jan. 1. Capt. Chan Warner aboard the Gulfstream out of the Key Largo Fisheries had one of his clients, Paul Sands of Miami, boat a 40-pound-plus black grouper and a 30-pound kingfish last week. All week long Capt. Chan has been steadily producing great bites of yellowtail and mutton snapper while fishing between 130 and 110 feet off Key Largo on cut baits like fresh bonito, squid and ballyhoo.

The shallower patch reefs continue to produce great light tackle action and are a great option to have when conditions get rough. Simple knocker rigs and live or fresh shrimp will catch just about everything that comes by — species like hogfish, porgies, several different types of snapper, mackerel, and the inevitable mystery reef fish. Just about every patch holds grouper. You may have to catch several before landing a legal one, but almost every bait that goes down comes back with something when fishing the patches.

In Florida Bay, the Spanish mackerel bite continues to be strong and should only get better with the arrival of some cooler temperatures expected next week. Redfish and snook are being caught around the capes and beaches near Cape Sable and inside Lake Ingram on Gulp-tipped jigs and live baits like pinfish and pilchards. For those of you who are looking for some shallow water action, the flats around Flamingo have been the loaded with redfish, seatrout, sheephead, sharks and jacks, tailing and crashing bait.

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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