Winter winds whipping up ever-changing bite

A week of cooler temperatures was a nice change of pace. While the mornings have been cold, the afternoons find anglers shedding layers as the temperatures slowly rise.

This week offered a mixed a bag of species and an ever-changing bite both offshore and in the backcountry, with some areas hot and others not.

Last Saturday was the 22nd annual Florida Keys Guides Fishing Association Swamp Guides Ball held out of the Lorelei in Islamorada, and it was a slugfest. The weather conditions were quite typical with 20-plus-mph winds and cold temps. But 46 teams participated in this year’s tournament. The goal of catching a Swamp Guides Slam consisting of a bonefish, snook and redfish in 8 hours proved very daunting this year with only three teams catching a slam.

By the end of the day new champions were crowned. Rick Miller and Stacy Telenzak with their guide Capt. Robert Klein took top honors catching one bonefish, one snook and three redfish!

Second place went to Ray Smith and Kim Lipkin with their guide Capt. Frankie Ortiz. Kim also won most bonefish caught with two bones. Third place went to Robert and Chrissie Collins with one bonefish, one snook and one redfish. Steve Stanley won most redfish caught with 14. He was guided by Capt. Dave Denkert.

The first snook caught went to Chris Lee and his guide Capt. Jared Raskob, catching their snook at 7:12 a.m.; Lines in was at 7 a.m.

Thanks again to Rusty and Terry Albury as well as the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association for running another great tournament. If you didn’t get a chance to fish it this year, there is always next year.

Offshore this week was another great week for anglers and charter Captains alike. Sailfish, kingfish, dolphin and tuna are all being caught in addition to great bottom fish like amberjack, grouper and mutton snapper. Tuna continue to be caught in good numbers around the humps off Islamorada, with most fish caught averaging around 4-8 pounds and larger ones caught every day.

An early start with a well full of live baits like pilchards or Spanish sardines will bring the bite to you faster than trolling. If the bait proves to be elusive, then trolling cedar plugs or small feathers colors blue/purple or black/purple will work as well. Vertical or butterfly jigs will also catch tuna in addition to kingfish and amberjacks when jigged close to the bottom.

Aboard the party boat Gulfstream out of the Key Largo Fisheries, Capt. Chan Warner has had another successful week putting his clients on the fish. While this week the bite was a little slower than previous ones, there were plenty of yellowtail, kingfish and mutton snapper caught of mixed sizes. The best action was taking place while fishing in 120 to 90 feet of water off the reef and around wrecks with cut bait like squid, ballahoo and shrimp for the yellowtails. When targeting the kingfish, Capt. Chan uses whole ballahoo rigged with three hooks in tandem on a light wire leader and a quarter- to half-ounce weight.

The ballyhoo he uses are called “kingfish Jiggers” purchased at the Key Largo Fisheries. Personally selected by Tom and Rick Hill, these ballyhoo are the perfect size when fishing for kingfish.

In the backcountry the action you experienced depended on the species you were targeting. For most the redfish and snook bite slowed while the black drum, sheepshead and mackerel action is hot.

Areas around East Cape Canal, Lake Ingram and Middle Cape have been great places to be if you are targeting black drum and sheepshead. Shrimp tipped jigs fished on the bottom or whole shrimp on a 1/0 to 3/0 Owner Mutu Light circle hook knocker rig with just enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom has been the rigs of choice for most.

The Spanish mackerel fishing around the outer banks of Florida Bay, like Sprigger and Schooner, has been producing lots of action. Most days anglers are catching lots of mackerel in addition to jacks, bluefish, seatrout and mangrove snapper. Other days, cobia, tripletail, sharks and kingfish find their way into the chum slick providing lots of excitement.

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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