Cold weather gave Upper Keys fishing a needed jolt

A very cold and windy start to the week had most anglers headed to the Miami Boat Show, while others braved the conditions to find a mixed bite offshore. Meanwhile, the backcountry remained steady.

Although the cold temperatures did not last it was just the thing we needed to revitalize the bite after a slow week.

Offshore, up until the arrival of this past cold front, the sailfish bite was slowing down for most fishing off the reef from Islamorada to Key Largo. Capt. Dana Banks aboard the War Bird out of the Ocean Reef Club in north Key Largo has noticed a noted improvement with the sailfish bite. Fishing just off the reef in 120-160 feet with live ballahoo and goggle eyes has not only produced several sails, but blackfin tuna and scattered dolphin around the 8- to 10-pound range. When the sailfish action slowed Capt. Dana would switch gears and fish the bottom, catching a good amount of big flag yellowtail snapper and a light kingfish bite.

Down south out of the Post Card Inn, Capt. Jon Reynolds aboard the Drop Back has been spending most of his time fishing the deeper side of the drop off in 150 to 180 feet for the sails with live ballahoo. While targeting the sailfish, there has been encounters with blackfin tuna 10 to 18 pounds and some gaffer size kingfish showing up behind the boat in the spread. Dropping a line down to the bottom while waiting for the next sailfish with a live ballahoo has brought up several nice mutton snappers and kingfish. One of the muttons Capt. Jon’s clients caught last week weighed 20 pounds in addition to several others during a half-day trip.

Outback in Everglades National Park, the tides were so low this past week that the fish had very few places to hind, making anglers choices a lot easier. A good rule of thumb is that when there is a drastic drop in temperatures the fish head to deeper waters, and that’s exactly what they did.

Areas like East Cape Canal, Lake Ingram, Snake Bight Channel and Middle Cape Canal are the places to be when looking to catch redfish, black drum, sheepshead, snook, seatrout and snapper during periods of cold temperatures. Fresh-dead or live shrimp is the preferred choice when slinging bait in these spots. Most days a shrimp placed on a 2/0 Owner Mutu Light circle hook and a 30-to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader fished on the bottom in areas with current will catch just about everything you could ever want.

Seatrout continue to be caught with regularity around areas of the middle part of Florida Bay in mullet muds and are a great fall back position when the redfish and snook bite slows. Paradise Poppers with Trigger-X or Gulp shrimp have been the most effective way to fill your cooler, while bouncing jigs across the bottom or working top water lures also produce a good bite.

I would like to wish all the anglers fishing the Backcountry Fly Championship this week great success, and if you are not fishing in it, then you are missing out on a great tournament. Another fantastic tournament taking place this coming week is the Fish ‘til you lose it! One Jig/ One Fly Backcountry tournament to benefit the BTT Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. This one-day tournament will take place Saturday, March 2. For more information check out, and to register send an e-mail to Hope to see you there.

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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