Snapper await your hooks

If you’re looking for great action with lots of good-eating fish, head to the reef. Yellowtail, mangrove and mutton snappers are biting furiously.

The most consistent action for larger, 18- to 20-inch yellowtails is on the deeper edge of the reef in 70 to 90 feet of water, whereas the mangroves are biting best in the 35- to 50-foot areas, with live baits definitely an advantage for the bigger fish, which are approaching five pounds and greater.

I like to fish live ballyhoo or smallish pinfish on a half-ounce jig head on or near the bottom.

You’ll need slightly heavier tackle than you would use for the yellowtails to get these hefty mangroves off the bottom. Go for 15- to 20-pound tackle and 20- to 30-pound leaders.

There are also a few keeper-size grouper mixed in with the mangroves, and the heavier tackle will no doubt increase your ratio of caught-to-lost fish.

Plenty of muttons are hanging on the reef as well as the wrecks, and you can’t beat live ballyhoo to entice them.

And on the patches, the mangrove bite remains very good, along with lots of keeper-size yellowtail in the 12- to 14-inch range. The same baits as you’d use off the reef edge will work here.

Offshore, tuna is still the most consistent fishery, with only scattered reports of dolphin. Trolling small tuna darts way back behind your boat and in front of schools of blackfins will produce good-size tuna in the 8- to 12-pound class.

Early morning or late afternoon are the best times for the tuna bite, as the fish go down deep during the midday heat.

Mangroves are making their way back into the bay and gulf waters, with plenty of fish up to three and four pounds. The shallow wrecks and grass banks are best right now.

Finally, now is the best time of the year to go lobstering, as there’s very little competition at your favorite hole or ledge from other bug hunters. So stock up for the holidays.

The week’s best

Paul and Amanda Fox, from Plantation in Broward County, have been fishing for 24 years with Capt. Larry Bell of Blue Magic Charters out of Keys Fisheries in Marathon. With Bell’s sons working deck, they fished two half-day trips, one on the reef and one in the bay. They caught their limit of mangrove snapper on both trips.

Hannan Allen and Justin Baldwin had a stellar half day on the reef with the SeaSquared crew. They caught their limit of snappers, including monster mangroves up to eight pounds, with a nice gag grouper to top off the day.

And Rick Berkes, from South Florida, returned for his third shark fishing adventure on the SeaSquared. They caught and released 14 large lemon sharks in the course of their four-hour trip.

Capt. Moe Mottice, of Moe’s Custom Charters in Key West, caught several dolphin trolling ballyhoo in 160 to 350 feet of water. On two different occasions, his baits were attacked by very small sailfish. Inshore, tarpon, snappers and big barracudas kept his anglers busy, along with large blacktip and American sharp nose sharks.

Casting contest

Capt. Spider’s Casting for Charity returns Sept. 12 to the 7 Mile Marina/Salty’s Waterfront Grill at mile marker 47 bayside in Marathon. The contest runs from 7 to 9 p.m. and will benefit a local nonprofit organization.

Capt. Chris Johnson is a member of the Yamaha National Fishing Team and specializes in offshore, gulf/bay, reef/wreck, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters out of Captain Pip’s Marina and Hideaway Marathon. You can reach him at 743-5305, http://SeaSquaredCharters.com and http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.

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